Cash blow for youngsters

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MOVES to cut £5.6 million from support for Sheffield’s under-fives are set to get the go ahead next week – with councillors insisting front line services will be protected.

Spending on areas such as childcare, health, education and family support will face fewer cutbacks than other areas of the council budget – around seven per cent, compared with 10 per cent in other departments.

Savings will mainly come from cutting administration costs and avoiding duplication of services in some areas, according to Cabinet member for children, young people and families Coun Jackie Drayton.

And while some of the city’s network of 36 children’s centres face closure, the services they provided would be moved to often more convenient and cost-effective locations such as libraries or surgeries, she said. Details of which areas will be affected will be hammered out over a period of months once councillors have approved the strategy.

Services for under-fives have been under review for almost a year, following substantial reductions in Government grants.

Coun Drayton said the results had been one positive outcome in what otherwise had been ‘a sea of bad news’.

“Services which are facing change are those which are not meeting the needs of families – with 600 parents coming forward to tell us their views,” she said. “They want quality provision but they also want it to be closer to home and more responsive to the needs of families in the 21st century.”

Providers will be asked to offer a wider variety of childcare at more flexible times, allowing parents to work for example on evening twilight shifts or at weekends.

There will also be a greater emphasis on giving support to needy families at the earliest possible stage – so nipping problems in the bud which could soak up significant resources at a later stage.

Another strategy will be to organise services at a more local level, with providers working together with input from parents.

“We are looking at a major redesign of services for young children with the emphasis on better value for money in every area,” Coun Drayton said.

“The days when our Sure Start centres were flooded with money during their earliest days are very much over.

“But there will still be a lot of work to ensure that we try to reach those poorest families who are not yet accessing the services they need, such as free nursery places,” she added.