Warwickshire officials confident £45,000-a-week children’s centre losses can be reversed by changes

Cllr Heather Timms
Cllr Heather Timms
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Delaying a decision on the future of Warwickshire’s children’s centres is costing taxpayers £45,000 a week.

The issue was to be decided by the county council’s cabinet last month – but it was referred to the authority’s children’s and young people scrutiny committee after opposition.

Labour and Lib Dem councillors were unhappy with the Conservatives opting for the only option out of three that guarantees all children centres stay open.

The referral - known as a ‘call-in’ - meant the tendering process was delayed, costing £45,000 per week.

But officials are hopeful the loss can be reversed by revising the timescale of the process.

Conservative councillor Heather Timms, responsible for children and schools, said: “The delay caused by this call-in of the cabinet decision is the greater risk to budgets but we will be working to mitigate this.”

She added: “One good piece of news coming out of this is that no children’s centres will shut, but nobody seems to be focusing on that.

“In these times, keeping them all open is a significant achievement.

“The equality impact assessment identified a risk that services would diminish.

“However we will be commissioning services based on need within a group, rather than one-size-fits-all, to reduce the risk.

A spokesperson from the county council added: “Delays to implementation of the proposals to amend the delivery model would result in savings slippage of £45,000 for each week.

“Officers are now working to revise timescales and mitigate the impact of the delay.”

The changes follow a reduction in the children’s centre budget of £2.3m, which will mean an average cut at children’s centres across the county of 30 per cent.

Government funding for ‘early intervention’ is set to reduce by a further 14 per cent in the next two years.

The call-in is unlikely to change anything in the long term as the council’s Conservative cabinet is likely to recommend the same option as before.

But a motion tabled by Green councillor Jonathan Chilvers asked the cabinet to acknowledge in writing that the changes are almost certain to have a negative impact on families.

Cllr Chilvers, who sits on the scrutiny committee, said: “The councillors discussing this need to be strong enough to admit that the changes being made to children’s centres could be hugely damaging to some of Warwickshire’s most vulnerable families.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Chilvers added that central government also had a case to answer for when it came to service cuts.

“I’m surprised people aren’t banging on George Osborne’s door making it clear that local authorities and the vital social services they provide cannot function on the amount of money they are getting.”