Children’s centres in Central Beds face closure

A COUNCIL has been accused of having “a lack of long-term vision” as it proposes to close up to 17 children’s centres – including one which only opened in June.

Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) has launched a consultation on three options for the future of its children’s centres.

One option is to close all but five of its 22 Sure Start centres, including Flying Start in Henlow, Orchard in Shefford, Red Bear in Stotfold, and Arlesey Meadows.

Flying Start only opened in June and one worker, who did not want to be identified, said: “It’s very upsetting and, apart from anything else, is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It shows a certain lack of long-term vision.”

Contracts for all the children’s centres end in March.

CBC has said it does not intend to cut funding to its children’s centres, but to focus spending on areas of deprivation, to help the most disadvantaged families.

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The Flying Start worker said: “We do have pockets of huge deprivation and we have RAF Henlow, which has very specific needs.

“It’s very early days and we are hoping we can work something out.”

CBC’s second option is to close eight centres – including those in Henlow and Stotfold – and transfer these resources to the remaining 14 centres.

The council has admitted that both options could leave recently funded buildings redundant, and that the Department for Education may ask for the money back that was spent on creating the axed centres.

Under the first option, CBC has also said that about 11,400 children and families would no longer be able to access services and, under option two, about 6,200 would go without.

The local authority has admitted that this could put some children at risk and increase the level and costs of later interventions required.

The council’s final option is to keep all 22 children’s centres open, but consolidate the centres into nine clusters operating a ‘hub and spoke’ model of service delivery.

The hubs will be centred primarily in areas of greatest need.

Councillor Mark Versallion, CBC’s executive member for children’s services, said: “These centres are a key part of our early intervention work to improve the life chances for children.

“This consultation is about making sure the money we spend on this service makes the greatest difference to the lives of children and families who most need our support.”

To find out more and to take part in the consultation, visit Consultation documents are also available from all children’s centres.

The consultation will close at noon on Wednesday, October 26.

Feedback from the consultation will be presented to the council’s Executive on January 10, when a final decision will be made.