Plans to cut funding from children’s centres have been criticised after a Labour Parliamentary candidate described them as ‘incredibly short-sighted’. The cut, amounting to £717,000, is part of Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) proposed 2024-25 budget, set to be discussed by members of the scrutiny committee today.
Last week, the council announced difficult decisions would need to be made to balance the books in what is its most challenging budget-setting process. Labour candidate for Ipswich, Jack Abbott, has taken to X (formerly Twitter) to criticise the council’s decision to cut the funding, labelled in the papers under ‘redesign family hub service’.
Children’s centres likely to close
In a thread, he said: “A £700,000 cut will hollow out Suffolk’s network of children’s centres even further. Given past experience, it is unlikely that ‘redesign’ is anything other than a creative way of saying ‘closures’.”
The proposal follows two previous rounds of cuts, in 2015 and 2020, when Conservative-controlled SCC cut the number of children’s centres from 47 to 29, some of which operate only part-time hours. Mr Abbott also warned the cut would affect areas in rural Suffolk that are already left with limited access to certain services.
However, the council maintains it will continue to support families across the county with new approaches for the delivery of services stemming from lessons learned during the pandemic.
“Flexible” family hubs needed
Councillor James Reeder, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic and advances in technology have altered the way some families choose to access services, for example, some services can now be delivered virtually. We need a Family Hub Model that supports flexible ways of accessing and delivering services for families.”
He added that a redesign of the ‘Family Hubs’ model will mean some changes, but tht Suffolk County Council are committed to providing steadfast help and support from staff and partners to keep families strong and together. A public consultation would be held to hear from families to align the proposed redesign with their needs.
However, Mr Abbott – himself a former Suffolk County Councillor, and Labour’s education spokesperson at the time – is not convinced. The consultation will serve its purpose but he believes the council has already made up its mind on where savings will be made. “There’s no way they are going to able to make those savings,” he says, “without closing children centres or cutting services. While you may be able to provide some services remotely, a lot of children’s centres offer a real safe haven and are described as life-changing.
Cuts are a “short-sighted decision”
“This is coming at the worst possible time when you’re meant to be helping people recover and rebuild post-Covid, and you’re taking away the very support structures they need to get on — it’s an incredibly short-sighted, damaging decision.”
Mr Abbott led the campaign against the round of SCC’s children’s centres closures in 2020, after the council failed in its bid to get Department of Education funding as part of the Johnson government’s levelling up agenda.
A spokesperson at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said they were concerned with the number of cuts to early help and preventative services local authorities are making, although the broader context of Government underfunding should also be taken into consideration.
In May 2022, the Government’s independent review of children’s social care concluded local authorities would need £2bn over five years to address issues in family health provision. To date, the spokesperson said, the Government has only committed £200m additional investment, leaving many local authorities starved of resources to address mounting pressures.