Campaigners have reacted with disbelief after it was revealed that Suffolk will not receive any new funding for children’s centres, despite suffering from major cuts to services.
At the start of 2015, Suffolk had 47 children’s centres, also known as ‘family hubs’. Later that year, Suffolk County Council (SCC) closed nine centres.
In 2020, SCC ran a consultation to ‘review countywide Children’s Centre services to expand our offer for families and children.’ At the time, SCC’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills, Conservative Councillor Mary Evans said: “I want to make it very clear that this review is all about improving our current and future offer for the most vulnerable families and communities in Suffolk who need access to such services including Early Years.
“Any potential savings made as part of this review to current arrangements will be re-invested back into the service to broaden the current offer for families and young people aged 0-19 in Suffolk.”
As a result of the review, a further ten centres were closed or repurposed, with 11 others cut to part-time hours. This means that only 17 dedicated centres across the county remain open full-time.
Despite these closures, SCC missed out on additional funding in the latest Government announcement, with 75 other local authorities preferred.
Jack Abbott, a former Labour councillor led the campaign against the children’s centre closures. He believes the decision to make another round of children’s centre closures in the middle of a pandemic was “desperately flawed” and is disappointed to learn that Suffolk will receive no help from the government to reverse the cuts.
“Children’s centres provide real health, education and social benefits, ” he explains, “but families in Suffolk have seen these vital services eroded under the Conservatives, while also having to contend with the loss of a third of the county’s health visitors.
“It beggars belief that, despite suffering from such brutal cuts to children’s centres, Suffolk won’t receive a single penny in new funding. It is the very opposite of ‘levelling up’.”
A spokesperson for Suffolk County Council says the Government’s Department for Education targeted areas with the highest deprivation levels, as part of the its levelling-up agenda. SCC did not meet the criteria for the funding which was based on the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index.
She added that the ten repurposed centres allowed SCC to create 104 new nursery places for 2 and 3 year olds which she says were much needed. The services which were provided by the children’s centres are still provided as outreach services at local community centres and libraries, as well as online.