THOUSANDS more vulnerable children could benefit from a restructure of Sheffield’s children’s centres - despite funding cuts of £3.5 million and 50 job losses next year, Sheffield Council claimed today.
Jayne Ludlam, the council’s interim executive director of children’s services, announced plans to reorganise the provision after a review of the 36 centres - which provide services ranging from midwifery to education for 9,000 under fives - found they are not being used effectively-enough.
The council said £3.5 million would be cut from the centres’ budget from next year - by reducing management and administration costs.
And it has promised not to close any of the centres.
Ms Ludlam said: “We have been looking at reorganising the service for some time. Our registration numbers at children’s centres are not what they should be. We haven’t reached the number of vulnerable families we want to. It is important because the educational ability of children at just 22 months affects their outcome in life.
“It can even determine whether they end up in care or the criminal justice system.
“We probably need to reach twice as many youngsters through these centres as we are at present and are looking at how we can best do that.”
The council is planning to offer ‘outreach’ services from centres, and will also consider providing evening and weekend services if parents request them.
“We know there are areas where we could improve,” Ms Ludlam said.
Around 700 parents took part in a consultation held by the council before it drew up its plans.
Savings are to come from a large-scale reorganisation of the sites.
The 36 centres, which are run by the council and other bodies including the NHS, are to be reorganised into 17 areas - some containing at least two centres.
At centres where management costs are high, bosses will be asked to reduce them.
Ms Ludlam said: “Early years has been significantly protected from previous cutbacks and we have carried out detailed analysis before deciding where to act to reduce costs.
“We are prioritising services to children and families and looking at how to organise them so they have maximum impact. No sites will be closed and we aim to offer a more flexible, but similar service to at present.”
Ms Ludlam said a restructure of children’s centres had been on the cards for years, including under the old Lib Dem administration between 2008 and 2011.
But Ms Ludlam said no savings have yet been made because ‘the service is complicated and we wanted to get our plans right’.
Further cuts of £3.2 million will be made to the council’s wider £25 million early years services’ budget on top of the children’s centre savings.
Grants to 16 providers of childcare will cease but the organisations will instead receive funding from the Government, depending upon how many children are enrolled.
Some of the funding cut from council children’s services departments is being re-used to pay for the Government’s guarantee of free childcare for two-year-olds.
Coun Jackie Drayton, Sheffield Council cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It’s heartbreaking for me to have to bring forward these proposals to make draconian cuts, this is certainly not something I came into this job to do.
“But we are still trying to provide activities in all areas for families who need them.”
The plans are set to be approved at a meeting of Sheffield Council’s cabinet next Wednesday. Consultation is being carried out with trade unions.
Sheffield’s Children’s Centres:
Arbourthorne and Norfolk Park
Birley Community Nursery School
Broomhall Nursery School
Early Days, Parson Cross
First Start, Firth Park
Fox Hill and Grenoside
The Meadow, Shirecliffe
Valley Park, Herdings