Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) has announced plans to charge parents for children's activity sessions that are currently free.

If the proposals go ahead, parents will be asked to pay for child and family group sessions run by the Family Support Service.

The announcement came alongside the launch of a consultation on the future of HCC's Family Centre Service - which includes the Family Support Service - as the council seeks to cut its costs.

Family Centres work with relevant people, including midwives, GPs, childcare providers and community groups, to deliver parenting support, activity sessions, and information and advice on a wide range of topics.

HCC's current contracts for the Family Centre Service expire in 2024/25, and they are hoping to gain feedback from children, parents, caregivers and professionals on how the service could change from January 2025.

It follows an earlier feedback process from May and June this year, when residents told HCC that universal group sessions were "essential" for parents and children alike.

Following that feedback, HCC said that retaining the sessions will be a "priority", but "to make this possible it will mean a charge for some group sessions".

The council will, however, be asking "providers to offer a loyalty card scheme and concessions where appropriate".

There are also plans to cut the number of fixed Family Centre buildings, with HCC suggesting that some are "not fit for purpose due to being too small, inaccessible, or in the wrong place".

Instead, they hope to identify community venues that can "deliver services as and when they are needed".

However, the ten district bases where staff are currently located would all be retained, with regular opening hours.

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The current district bases are in Borehamwood, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, Hertford, Hitchin, St Albans, South Oxhey, Stevenage, Watford and Welwyn Garden City.

A spokesperson for HCC warned that "difficult decisions must be considered when redesigning services to make the best use of public money, buildings, resources, and highly skilled staff".

They said that feedback from the current consultation "will be used to develop a new service specification and to confirm which of the current buildings should remain for service delivery".

The Family Centre Service is made up of two teams - Family Support Services and Public Health Nursing.

The current consultation, which is open until October 10 and can be accessed here, is focused on the former, while the latter will be subject to a future consultation.

HCC's Integrated Plan agreed to find £1.9m of savings over three years through the "recommissioning" of the Family Support Service, and there are concerns about wider cuts.

Like many councils across the country, HCC is facing significant financial challenges. It agreed to increase council tax and make savings of £27.4m in 2023/24 to help deliver a balanced budget.