All main children’s centres to remain open following consultation
Published: 11 April 2019
Following resident feedback, the council proposes to keep all eight main ‘hub’ children’s centres open – despite sustained funding cuts from central government forcing the council to consider a re-design of services.
The proposal will be considered by Cabinet next week (23 April 2019) after residents favoured other options put forward in a public consultation to help the council decide how to plug a £650k gap in the council’s finances.
Under the plans, 17 children’s centres will stay open in Redbridge despite the huge budget pressures.
This compares to four in neighbouring Waltham Forest, seven in Barking and Dagenham, seven in Havering, 11 in Newham, and 12 in Tower Hamlets.
National cuts to local government budgets have forced the council to find £166m of savings, nearly 60 per cent of its budget, since 2010 but it has kept its children centres open and provided free universal services whilst most other local authorities have already reduced provision or closed children’s centres altogether.
Acknowledging the benefit of children’s centres, the post-consultation report recommends retaining all eight main hubs, along with nine satellites – centres which are only open when the council or its partners run sessions.
Also up for consideration is the closure in September 2019 of four under-used satellites at Winston Way, in Ilford; Chadwell, in Grove Road; Forest, in David’s Way, Hainault; and Oakdale, in Oakdale Road.
These currently provide just 32.5 hours of childcare each week, more than two thirds at Winston Way.
It is recommended to charge partners for use of the centres when they put on sessions – the option for tackling the shortfall in funding most favoured by respondents to the public consultation.
Proposals to reduce the level of council subsidy to services have also been changed after the consultation. The council will now offer free access to all services for every family for the first sixth months after a child’s birth.
For families who qualify for free childcare for two year olds, families supported by domestic violence refuges and families supported by the council’s Early Help and statutory Safeguarding Services, the access will continue to be free after those first six months and they will continue to be free throughout the child’s first five years.
For some families, after the council provides free access to services for those first six months, from that point onwards, the council will continue to subsidise over 80% of the costs for each session that they access.
This means that after those first six months, for some families, they will be asked to pay a small flat fee of approx. £2 per family so that they can continue to access sessions run by the children’s centres.
There would also be a staffing restructure, including significantly reducing the number of managers.
Cabinet Member for Children and Young People Cllr Elaine Norman said: “In Redbridge, we completely value our children’s centres and the services they provide to our communities.
“But the reality we face is a hugely challenging financial situation and we could no longer protect the whole service from the government’s irresponsible cuts.
“We said no final decisions would be made until the results of our consultation and we’ve delivered on that pledge.
“The final shape of the service reflects the feedback we received from residents and we will be providing the best possible and most sustainable service given the budget constraints.
“It also means our residents will still benefit from the most comprehensive children’s centre network in east London.
“The timetable for the changes is being managed to give families who use the satellite centres the greatest benefit over the summer holidays.”