‘WARNING bells’ are ringing over a planned review of children and family centres by West Sussex County Council, Labour have said.
The authority needs to either save or cut around £153m over the next four years due to reduced Government funding and increasing demand for services.
A review of the network and children and family centres, in tandem with a wider look at other WSCC property to ensure ‘optimum use of assets’, is included in the emerging 2016/17 budget with £750,000 savings identified over the next two years.
But WSCC said there were ‘currently no proposals to reduce the number of children and family centres’ and they remained a ‘top priority’.
Sue Mullins, leader of the Labour group at WSCC, said: “The fact that the county council is about to undertake an up to 18 month review of its buildings and their usage, with the aim of, yet again, saving money, sends out warning bells.
“There has been talk of either moving services, like children and family centres, into other council buildings, such as libraries, reducing operating times, or closing some centres completely and concentrating the service in areas of high need.
“We all know the highly important work done by these centres supporting our families and their children.
“The benefits are of course unquantifiable, but we know that money spent in supporting families at an early stage, saves a lot of money and heartache further down the line.
“We are already seeing the results of reducing Sure Start in some areas, there have been reports recently on TV.
“In Crawley, the Labour group is well aware of the vital input provided by children and family centres for the residents of the town.
“We completely support their retention in their present format and will strongly oppose any attempt to reduce, or close, any part of the service.”
Peter Lamb, a fellow Labour county councillor and leader of Crawley Borough Council, added: “The only way this part of the proposed budget works is if something gets closed. Early intervention saves taxpayers money in the long-run and gives kids a better chance growing up and giving back to society.
“Labour councillors will fight the council all the way on any plans to close local SureStart centres.”
A spokesperson for WSCC said: “There are currently no proposals to reduce the number of children and family centres in West Sussex. To ensure taxpayers in West Sussex are getting good value for money and that residents can access the community services they need, we will be conducting a full review of all our community buildings to explore how residents could access a range of services under one roof.
“During the review, which is expected to take up to 18 months to complete, we will also be working with partners when it makes sense to locate our services under their roof.
“As a vital service within our local communities, we would like to reassure residents that the work of our children and family centres remains a top priority and we remain totally committed to meeting the needs of young children and their families, especially the most vulnerable.”
According to WSCC’s website there are 48 children and family centres across the county, some of which are mobile services covering rural communities or a number of small villages.
The county council’s Tory leadership is proposing a 3.95 per cent increase in its element of council tax, which would add an extra £45.90 a year to a Band D property from April. A final decision on the 2016/17 budget will be taken by Full Council on Friday, February 19.
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