Children’s centres at risk in £1m saving bid

Sure Start Centre, Fairfield
Sure Start Centre, Fairfield

Children’s centres across the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales could be closed under controversial cost-cutting plans announced by Derbyshire County Council.

If agreed by members of the authority’s cabinet at a meeting next week, a public consultation on proposals to close up to seven of the county’s 54 children’s centres will begin on May 12.

The authority will also be asking locals for their views on a number of other options, including charging people to use some children’s centre services; charging organisations for using children’s centre facilities and reducing the number of staff who work in each children’s centre, as part of a plan to help them save £1.1 million.

There are currently children’s centres in Bakewell, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Fairfield, Gamesley, Glossop, Hadfield, Harpur Hill and New Mills.

It is not yet clear which centres are at risk of closure.

The move is the latest in a series of cost-cutting drives by the council, which has to cut £157 million from its budget because of government cuts.

Council leader Anne Western said: “We really don’t want to make these devastating cuts - we don’t relish this at all.

“We’re facing massive financial pressures like never before and that means we’ve got some difficult decisions to make.”

Cllr Caitlin Bisknell, who represents the Buxton North and East ward on the county council, said: “I think the county have been completely open and honest and said they’ve got a huge amount of cuts to find and can’t continue to provide the levels of service they currently do and need to focus services to provide to those who most need it.

“Having been involved certainly in the Fairfield Sure Start and most recently Harpur Hill, my heart is so much in Sure Start Children’s Centres. I think they are one of the beacon legacies of the last Labour government who put a lot of time and effort into setting them up. They’ve come in for some criticism, unfair criticism I think, because the thing with Sure Start centres is it takes a long time for the results to show. They work with young children and families and you don’t actually see the benefit of working with two or three year olds until they are at secondary school.

“I was involved with the Residents of Fairfield Association and the Fairfield community in getting that Sure Start centre set up and getting parents involved and getting doctors involved and then later getting the dentist involved. Funding for that comes from health services and I don’t know that that will be specifically impacted by these proposals.

“Fairfield is a fantastic place. I think most people recognise there are some problems, there are some families who struggle and who need the extra support. I think it is one of the most needy areas of the High Peak and I’d be very surprised if we saw huge cuts in Fairfield. That is not to say some things might not be cut back.”

She added: “Everyone should make the most of this opportunity to tell the county council how they use these services and what they do for them and their families.

“Fairfield is a very vibrant community and it would be a huge loss. I will be fighting hard to make sure that the children’s centres remain, particularly in Fairfield which is the one I know best.”

Parents have also been left upset at the prospect of losing the children’s centres.

Commenting on the Buxton Advertiser’s Facebook page, Lisa Cook said: “I’m a new mum of twins and frequently attend New Mills children’s centre. The support and people I have met has been invaluable so far.”

And Pamela Ross added: “This is so very wrong, what do we pay our council tax for? Kids need these.”

Once the public consultation closes on June 17, officers from the county council will review the results before further work to explore the impact of any of the options will take place.

A report will then go to members in September containing detailed proposals for formal consultation.