Stay of execution for threatened children's centres

Wharfedale Observer: Councillor Ralph Berry Councillor Ralph Berry

Council bosses are going back to the drawing board over controversial cuts to children’s centres.

At a meeting of Bradford Council’s executive on Tuesday, the authority said it would explore alternative plans suggested by campaigners, but warned that savings would still have to be found.

Campaigners had put forward “some very creative and useful ideas” for saving money during public consultations, Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services Councillor Ralph Berry said.

The meeting heard that a £3m one-off handout from the Schools Forum would in effect buy them a 12-month reprieve to explore these ideas in full.

Coun Berry said: “It gives us time to do things in a much more careful way, to work through it in a much more careful way.”

The authority had proposed to save £2.4 million between 2014 and 2016 by dividing the centres into three categories – core centres which would run as they are now, satellite centres which would be staffed on a part-time basis, and outreach bases which would be run by volunteers.

Among the nine centres earmarked to become outreach bases are Little Lane Children’s Centre in Ilkley and Menston and Burley Children’s Centre.

At the meeting, campaigners from Ilkley and Menston and Burley, again spoke out to urge a re-think.

Ilkley campaigner Simon Kelly told the meeting the plans risked not only the education and welfare of children, but also the fabric of local communities. “Scaling back services in areas outside of inner cities, or those not deemed to be ‘disadvantaged’ enough risks taking away the very things that are vital to building a community and supporting the many young families that have made the smaller towns and villages of West Yorkshire their home,” he said.

Coun Berry said the Schools Forum money would give the council time to “come up with different and better ways of protecting services as best we can”, and added that this may well see local schools playing a greater role.

He said: “They are in a sense going to become far more involved in the running of them, working with them and the shaping of these services, particularly in what you might describe as outer areas.”

But Coun Berry stressed that the Schools Forum money was a one-off for 2014-15 and savings would still have to be made the year after.

He said: “It’s money taking us forward. It’s not relief. It’s a commitment to try and come up with a new model. It doesn’t solve the problem of the year after.”

After the meeting Adele Senior, of Ilkley, who led a petition to save the Little Lane centre said: “This is great news for Little Lane’s Children’s Centre, for everyone who uses it, and for those who have worked hard to oppose the downgrading of the Centre to an Outreach Base.

“I sincerely hope this 12 months of funding will enable the council to revise their original plans and come up with a viable and sustainable alternative for maintaining the current level of service for all of the children’s centres across the district.”

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