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'When is it going to happen?' - 'delay' to children's centres consultation

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:44 23 September 2019

People in Ipswich taking part in a ‘Save Suffolk’s Children'’s Centres’ day of action, led by the Labour party Picture: JACK ABBOTT

People in Ipswich taking part in a 'Save Suffolk's Children''s Centres' day of action, led by the Labour party Picture: JACK ABBOTT

Jack Abbott

Families and staff will be facing "uncertainty and worry" after it emerged there is now "no firm date" for the public consultation on Suffolk children's centre changes.

Suffolk County councillor Jack Abbott Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSuffolk County councillor Jack Abbott Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The professional body for social workers spoke of the impact of the delay to the consultation, which was due to start in September 2019, saying the lack of certainty was "unsettling".

Suffolk County Council is planning a major shake-up of the service, which could save up to £1million.

The proposals would see two centres shut completely, nine would be changed to part-time hours, 16 would become "family hubs"- now catering for up to age 19 - and 11 would be converted to special educational needs facilities or nurseries.

READ MORE: Big revamp planned for Suffolk's children's centres - here's what you need to know

Suffolk County Council's cabinet had agreed the consultation would start in September, but, while denying it was a delay, a spokeswoman for the authority said "we do not have a date for it at the moment".

Campaigners in Bury St Edmunds protesting over proposed children's centre changes Picture: NICOLA IANNELLI-POPHAMCampaigners in Bury St Edmunds protesting over proposed children's centre changes Picture: NICOLA IANNELLI-POPHAM

"We are still working on the consultation materials and there is also the issue of officer capacity," she said.

Gavin Moorghen, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said "without clear, timely and transparent consultations staff and families will be left with uncertainty and worried about future care".

READ MORE: Have your say on controversial children's centre changes from September

Julia Winkless, of the Ipswich and Suffolk branch of BASW, said: "Everybody working in a service that's about to be culled will be thinking 'when is it going to happen?'

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"There will be issues over where people will be based; practical arrangements over how people will get to work. There's no certainty over that. That will be unsettling for everybody."

She added staff would be left wondering how their roles would be changing.

"Some people came into the job to work with young children and if they are rolling it out to up to 19 that's a different demographic entirely."

She added: "You are going to find a workforce that is increasingly stressed, I think."

Suffolk County Councillor Jack Abbott, County Labour spokesperson for children's services, education and skills, said: "Indefinitely delaying the consultation due to a lack of planning will inevitably lead to questions about basic competence, but it has also left people asking 'what are they really up to?'.

"We can only hope that they have finally woken up to the damage they will cause to children and families and are planning to ditch their devastating cuts."

READ MORE: 'It would be tragic if they closed' - parents on threatened children's centres

Mr Moorghen said closing children's centres in Suffolk, just like across the UK, would have a "devastating impact on children and families, particularly in rural areas where public transport is also limited".

Previously, Conservative councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education and children's services, said it was about "living within our means while trying to deliver the best possible service".

He said: "It's about having a service which reflects the needs of today, changes in social media and the way we communicate.

"Buildings don't deliver services, it's the people who do. It's really to target those families who really need our services, and trying to get early intervention because we all know the sooner you address a problem the better the outcomes.

"We are all reluctant to change - that's human nature, and this is no different."

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