MORE than half of the town’s Children’s Centres are set to close as the council attempts to save almost £800,000.
A consultation with parents and staff is due to start later this month over plans which would see a reduction in the overall service in many areas of the town, as well as some possible job losses It is believed almost £17 million of savings need to be found in next year’s budget, which is why the plan is being put forward.
The centres at Penhill and Pinehurst, Moredon, Drove and Gorse Hill, which became a super cluster run by one company earlier this year, will remain untouched, as will the Parks and Walcot East centre at Goddard Park Academy.
These centres serve the highest proportion of vulnerable children and, as such, funding will remain the same.
However, all the others face being decommissioned, although some will be replaced by a new form of service.
At Abbey Meads and West Swindon it is proposed that new multi-generational family centres are established at 66 per cent of their current funding.
These would be operated by a co-ordinator, who would work with the community to run groups for children, parents and the elderly.
They would be able to charge groups or raise funds and it is anticipated that after two years these two centres would be self-sufficient so that council funding could be withdrawn.
Even with the new multi-generational centres, some areas of the town will be left short and parents may have to travel much further to access the services.
For example, those living in Old Town and East Wichel will be encouraged to travel to Drove Road following the closure at Croft while Eldene parents will be asked to go to Parks and Walcot East.
A part of the consultation would also look at possible community uses for the building currently being used by Robert Le Kyng and Highworth children’s centres.
Although the overall service would be reduced, there are set to be an extra 17 health visitors in the area by next year and extra funding is available for vulnerable three and four-year-olds to make sure they are ready for school.
It is expected the changes will have come into effect by April next year and will save the council £770,000, from an overall budget of £2.1 million.
The consultation will start on July 29 and run until the beginning of October.
Vows that vulnerable will still be protected
THE era of austerity is set to hit home for many parents across Swindon as cuts will mean the closure of a number of children’s centres.
Council bosses have said difficult decisions have to be made, but steps are being taken to ensure the most vulnerable children in Swindon will be protected.
However, they have been criticised by the opposition, who say many children will suffer as a result.
The cabinet member for children services, Coun Fionuala Foley (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn), said: “We are looking at finding up to £48m worth of savings over the next three years.
“Doing nothing about it is not an option and so difficult decisions have to be made. With this move I have made sure the most vulnerable children will be protected.
“The centres in the super cluster and Parks and Walcot are ring fenced. There will be no changes there.
“There are some areas where parents will have to travel further and for that I am sorry. But while it may be inconvenient they will still have access to a centre.
“We have had to look at the areas of need and prioritise where the service is needed. From a financial perspective, this is the hardest decision I have ever had to make.”
The move has been labelled as ‘appalling’ by the opposition, who feel it will have a negative impact on life chances. The Labour candidate for Swindon South Anne Snelgrove said: “The Conservatives’ appalling decision to halve the budget for Swindon’s Children’s Centres will affect the future of vulnerable children across Swindon for years to come.
“It means their life chances will be lessened as all studies show that intervening at an early age can break the cycle of deprivation in troubled families.
“Cutting another £770,000 from the Children's Centres budget means that early intervention cannot be delivered comprehensively in Swindon. I fail to see how the council will fulfil its duty to work with the most vulnerable children when most parents will live too far away from the remaining centres to make use of them.”