Children’s centres saved from closure

A PROPOSAL to close up to 17 children’s centres in Central Beds has been scrapped.

Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) had been looking at three options for the future of its children’s centres.

One option was 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.

Another option was to close eight centres – including those in Henlow and Stotfold.

But at a meeting yesterday (Wednesday), councillors voted through a third option - 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 decision came after pressure from the public, which saw a petition launched to save the centres.

A public consultation also saw 91 per cent of the 700 respondents vote in favour of keeping all the centres open.

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The council launched the consultation after the Government called for services to be targeted on the most deprived children and families.

The main hubs, serving the areas of greatest need, will have call on more resources, allowing them to offer enhanced provision for disadvantaged families.

The other two options involved closing centres in areas of less need in order to put even more resources into the areas with the highest levels of deprivation.

Current contracts for all 22 centres are due to expire at the end of March. The contracts starting from April will reflect the new arrangements.

Councillor Mark Versallion, CBC’s executive member for children’s services, said: “These centres help improve life chances for children across Central Bedfordshire.

“By supporting families early on, through parenting advice and signposting to benefits, health and other services, we can help tackle issues such as poverty, ill health and low educational achievement.”

He continued: “The council will be spending slightly more on children’s centres than it did last year, some �2.8m from April 2012.

“I am determined to get the best out of this investment to genuinely reach those children and families in greatest need.

“The agreed changes to the delivery model will help achieve this goal.”

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