£900,000 shake-up to children’s services in Cambridgeshire given go-ahead

Shake-up of children's centre provision acorss Cambridgeshire is due to be debated by county councillors on Tuesday (17).
Shake-up of children's centre provision acorss Cambridgeshire is due to be debated by county councillors on Tuesday (17).

Plans to make £900,000 of cuts including job losses to children and family services in Cambridgeshire have been given the go-ahead by councillors.

The shake-up of services, which includes the closure of two children’s centres in Fenland including the one at Murrow, will see a greater focus on frontline support to families in need via outreach services.

A full meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council debated the changes last Tuesday and agreed by 31 votes to 22 in favour of the cuts which a report to the meeting argued would reduce spending on buildings and management allowing better focus on services

The proposals will see the loss of 11 management posts, but county council leader Councillor Steve Count said after the meeting that many of those posts were already vacant and it was hoped others affected would find alternative positions within the authority.

Public response to a consultation leading up to the decision forced the issue to go to full council for discussion and also led to amendments to the proposals with a reduction in cuts from a proposed £1 million to £900,000. The other £100,000 will be used to increase outreach services across the county.

It is hoped the buildings affected will be used to increase childcare provision within their communities to meet demand caused by the increase from 15 to 30 hours of free childcare for all three and four-year-olds introduced in September.

At Murrow it is hoped the existing pre-school will be able to increase its capacity to help cope with demand.

Wendy Hopkin, pre-school manager, explained news the children’s centre was closing had caused confusion among parents worried they would be losing the nursery.

However, the changes should hopefully mean the number of places available can be increased. Mrs Hopkin explained: “We currently cater for 30 families, but have at least 45 others on our waiting list. The fact we are rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and are the largest pre-school catering for this area of Fenland makes us a popular choice.

“It is great that the county council wants to see childcare provision increased in the children’s centres once they close, we just have to wait and see how that will be made possible in terms of funding and costs, so we can make that happen here in Murrow.”

Going forward there will be 27 buildings retained for children’s services from April with a budget of £4.3 million to be spent on child and family centre services on top of the early help services the council runs, which has an additional budget of £7.2 million

Councillor Samantha Hoy, vice chairman of the children and young people committee, added: “Children’s Centre Services across the country are changing to help them meet the needs of our most vulnerable families, who remain our top priority. Our plans are very much in line with those of other counties who, like us, also have reducing budgets for a whole range of services where demand continues to grow. The Council is sending a strong message to Government that the long-term underfunding of large rural counties like ours cannot continue as part of our fairdeal4Cambs campaign.”