Reading Borough Council has proposed to replace the town’s 13 children’s centres with four ‘children and family centre hubs’. Under the proposal, Katesgrove children’s centre would be replaced by the Sun Street Youth and Community Centre at Cemetery Junction.
The council will consult the public on its proposals before a decision is made. Consultation starts in January and will last for 12 weeks.
Local authorities all over the country are closing their children’s centres because central government had withdrawn ring-fenced funding for them, said councillor Jan Gavin, lead councillor for children’s services and families. The council decided to cut £400 thousand from the children’s services budget of £1.2 million as part of its attempt to make £40 million savings by 2020.
“Local authorities have not only been left without money to fund these services,” said councillor Gavin, “but with no national strategic direction, nor any idea what the government’s intentions are.”
Councillor Gavin explained that the proposal was “to focus our dwindling resources… in areas of highest need and to target support to those children and families that need [it].”
“Universal services will still be available to all families in a range of buildings across the town,” she added. These services include health visiting and midwifery.
“I was told… that the reorganisation might lead to better outcomes for children,” said councillor Josh Williams. “I don’t believe these proposals will lead to that. There is merit in bringing a range of services into a single location… but only if people can access that location.”
“Children’s centres in the north of Reading and the centre are to disappear, and not in the name of improved provision… but in the name of cuts.”
“We’ve got an inability to control spending, at £7.5 million overspend. A fraction of that would keep open our children’s centres,” he continued. “This council has spent a reported £1 million on lawyers challenging equal pay claims for women. Would the people of Reading prefer that £1 million be spent on lawyers or on children’s centres?”
“I hope the people of Reading… tell their councillors what they think of this proposal,” he said.
“We’re not doing this from choice; we’re being forced to,” responded councillor Emmett McKenna.
“If we opposed every single cut, we would have the government come in with commissioners… and take over every single service,” added councillor John Ennis.
“It’s heartbreaking to be in this position,” said councillor Rachel Eden. “But we have to do it. We are elected to do the best we can in the face of a government that just doesn’t care for the people of our town.”
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