ON Wednesday night, Cabinet started the consultation process on changing the focus of our services for children to make sure that we spend more on reaching the most vulnerable.
My Cabinet colleague, Coun Fionuala Foley and her officer team, have worked very hard to make sure that children remain central to what we do and I have complete confidence that her suggestions, if adopted, will do this.
Fionuala proposed that we retain our Children’s Centres in the parts of the town with the most children at risk and where there is evidence of social and economic deprivation. That is a sound, rational approach to concentrate our efforts where they are most needed. It also responds to Ofsted’s challenges across the country that many of these centres are not assisting those most in need.
In Abbey Meads and West Swindon we are considering turning Children’s Centres into Family Centres or other support facilities for children. For example, we are looking at a similar scheme in Germany where family centres are built round teams of volunteers and a small number of staff.
In addition to this, we will be seeing the expansion of our health visitor service by April 2015. All children and their parents currently receive a minimum of five home visits before they start school.
In addition, we can provide more support or assistance at an early stage to those who really need it. For example, parents and guardians of all vulnerable two year olds can apply for 15 hours early education a week.
That is why Cabinet was asked to endorse Fionuala’s proposal.
It emphasises the key point I am making this year: We need to change how we provide services so that we secure the best results for local people.
Some people will seek to oppose change at all costs. However, we are facing a growing population, rising demand for our services, and, as ever, limited budgets.
We are keen to hear of any alternatives, but we have to protect those at risk and make the best use of our available resources.
Let me also clarify why we cannot just use the money that the Government has just given the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership for sustainable transport. The extra money is a one-off grant.
Since it is not part of our core budget, it would mean that we would still have to look at changes next year. The Government allocated the money for specific projects, so we have no discretion over its use.
All this may make the challenge harder, but it will not deflect this administration from its goals.