Sheffield Council reassures parents in children’s centre row

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COUNCIL bosses have moved to reassure parents they are not forcing any children’s centres in Sheffield to close amid furore surrounding the authority’s reorganisation of early years services.

Proposals to transform the city’s 36 centres into 17 outreach ‘hubs’ will not automatically spell the closure of the remaining 19, according to Sheffield Council’s children, young people and families department.

Protesters claim the authority’s plans to withdraw its contribution from the 20 childcare providers it currently subsidises, due to a 
28 per cent reduction in government funding, will inevitably lead to closures.

However, the council argues children’s centres and childcare providers were made aware of the Government’s decision to cut the Early Intervention Grant by £6.8 million and given adequate time to prepare plans to enable them to stay open.

On top of this, they can continue accessing government funding for free early learning for children aged three and four.

There will also be cash for free childcare for two-year-olds in more deprived areas of the city.

Dawn Walton, council assistant director of early intervention for children, young people and families, said: “The council is redesigning its early years services.

“This has been prompted by the need to save £50 million in this year’s budget, and the change in the way the Government is funding this.

“Following a two-year review of early years services, the aim is to do more with less money and create more streamlined services.

“Our aim is to maintain provision of frontline services in all areas, but this may be done in a different way, for example in a different venue.

“Proposals went to cabinet in December and we are currently consulting before a decision is made.”

The message comes after a number of demonstrations from children’s centre staff, parents and youngsters.

Some campaigners have claimed the council has already decided which centres to close and are planning a legal battle, which a council spokeswoman called ‘premature’ as consultation continues until the end of January.

She said: “Proposals have been put forward, and service has to change because of the Government withdrawal of funding, and following the outcomes of the early-years review in 2011, but no decisions will be made until we’ve completed consultation.”

Charity Action for Children, which was rumoured to be among the centres to close, quashed claims it is pulling services out of the city.

Carol Iddon, of the charity, said: “Action for Children continues to operate centres across Sheffield, providing a range of support and activities for families.

“We will continue to run these while working with the local authority to reach an agreement on the future provision of children’s centres and other services we have in the area.”