Rotherham’s most senior councillors have agreed a deal which will see the authority give up control of a series of children’s and youth centres across the town in a move designed to safeguard – and in some cases improve – the vital services they offer.
It means that in many cases the buildings will be handed over to other bodies, including schools, under agreements which will free the council of the running costs but will still allow them access to run sessions from the buildings.
Some youth centres will go, but the biggest impact of that change will be that staff will have their office base elsewhere, because much of the work they do is out in communities, working with youngsters on the streets or in parks, rather than at old fashioned ‘youth club’ type buildings.
The changes will save the money needed to balance budgets under the ongoing austerity cuts, but will also give the council the opportunity to train its ‘early years’ staff to provide new services which are aimed at ultimately keeping more children away from going into care – something which will both save money and improve the lives of those involved.
Numbers of council children’s centres will reduce from 12 to nine as a result of the decision agreed by the council’s ruling Cabinet, with some services still operating from the same building.
However, much of what children’s centres currently offer is done out in communities already so those arrangements will be unaffected.
The children’s centres to be deregistered, meaning other activities will also take place there, are Park View, Broom Valley and Wath Victoria.
Leases for youth centres at Herringthorpe, Treeton, Kiveton, Maltby and Swinton will also be surrendered, with staff moved to other bases.
Coun Gordon Watson told Cabinet colleagues: “This will deliver a good service for the borough, still spending £10m plus. This is not a decimation of the service.
“There is a lot of love for children’s centres; what people love is the staff and delivery. The staff and service will still be there, we believe this is the right thing to do.
“This is about continuing with a good service and moving it forwards to make it more targeted, within the constraints we have got.
“We know, not just in Rotherham, that certain ways of working have evidence that they help families.
“Early intervention is much better for families than waiting until there is a crisis,” he said.
One service expected to be expanded is family group conferencing, where help is given to help extended families cope with those experiencing problems.
“We know it is better for the outcomes for children to stay with birth parents than for us to take them into care.
“It is a newer way of working and upskilling our staff to work smarter,” he said.
The changes are the second and third phases of work planned to modernise the service and save money, with ten children’s centres closing several years ago.
However, since those centres went the actual numbers using the services has increased.
It is expected the changes will save around £500,000 in the years ahead, adding towards the £30m the council has to save over the next two years.
Council leader Chris Read conceded they would rather not be in a position of having to make cuts, but said: “We priorities staff and services over buildings. There is not a single front line job which will be lost.”