In spite of savage government cuts to Sutton Council funding, the borough’s Liberal Democrat administration has been able to protect more than three-quarters of its popular children’s centres from closure.
Following extensive consultation with borough residents using the service, the council is to adopt a new borough-wide model for children’s centre delivery based on six Hubs, four Access Points and one Child Development Centre/Access Point.
Only three of Sutton’s 14 children’s centres will close at the end of this financial year instead of the four recently proposed.
Sutton Council had originally discussed the possibility of closing all but one of the borough’s children’s centres, but following a consultation with residents early last year changed the proposal to restructure the borough service. A second consultation last autumn has refined and improved the plans still further.
As part of the restructure, the council has been looking at innovative ways to generate funds and has secured £250,000 of additional children’s centre funding through the co-location of children’s health service staff at children’s centre sites.
The savings resulting from the innovative changes will be £727,000 a year, from an annual children’s centre’s budget currently standing at £1.3m a year.
The changes are being made because Sutton Council has to save £31m from its annual budget by 2019 because of unprecedented Government cuts to funding and increased pressure on services.
The council has already saved £43m from its annual budget since 2010. Its annual budget is currently £148.4m.
The councils’ second consultation, in October and November last year, was carried out through online and printed surveys, and workshops in each of the borough’s 14 children’s centres. Survey responses were given by 437 people and 88 people attended the workshops.
Some of the main findings were:
- 46 per cent of respondents agreed with the council’s proposed option of six Hubs and four Access Points, and 39.1 per cent disagreed with the proposal.
- 46.9 per cent of respondents disagreed with the council proposal to close Beddington children’s centre.
- 46 per cent of respondents agreed that £2.50 per child would be a reasonable price to pay for a pay-as-you-go session. But more respondents from the hard-to-reach group disagreed than agreed, showing that a £2.50 charge would be more likely to have an impact on the residents who may be most in need of children’s centres. The council is to look at charging £2.50 per family per session instead.
- 45.7 per cent of respondents said online was their preferred booking method compared to 26 per cent via a mobile app and 28 per cent wishing to book at the children’s centre either on the day or in advance.
- Workshop attendees said they felt listened to from the first phase of the consultation a year ago.
Cllr Wendy Mathys, Lib Dem Chair of Sutton Council’s Children, Family and Education Committee, thanked all borough residents who took part in the workshops and surveys.
She said: “We have listened to what parents have told us throughout each consultation and as a result have increased the number of centres we will keep and will be introducing charges for some sessions in line with resident’s feedback. We are also changing the charge per session to £2.50 per family rather than per child, as requested by residents.
“Unprecedented Government cuts to our budget has meant we have had no choice but to reduce the size of the council and the services we offer. Our children’s centres are a valuable community resource and we have listened to parents to create a new model that retains as many of the services as possible.”
The consultation was carried out through Sutton’s Future, a campaign to involve residents in shaping the future of the borough through the Government cuts.
The council’s Children, Family and Education Committee accepted the final recommendations and agreed that the following six children’s centres would become Hubs: Amy Johnson, Green Oak, Thomas Wall, Tweedale, Beddington, and Muschamp.
The following four children’s centres would be an Access Points: Manor Park, Shanklin, Spencer, and Stanley Park.
Victor Seymour children’s centre will be designated a Child Development Centre/Access Point.
The three children’s centres that will close at the end of this financial year are: Green Oak in Cheam, High View, and The Grange.
Hubs will offer the full core offer of children’s centre services all-year-round, including up to nine sessions per week, including health services and information and advice
They will also offer a combination of up to nine universal, charged and targeted sessions per week, plus health. These could include: messy play; play and stay; well-child clinic; speech and language course; speech and language play and stay; and access to provision for two year olds.
Access Points will deliver one-off or planned sessions and will open up to twice a week.