Suffolk County Council is rushing through its controversial shake-up of children’s centres without proper public scrutiny under cover of the coronavirus crisis, UNISON warns today.
UNISON has written to Mary Evans, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, to raise concerns about the decision to continue with plans to cut services at more than half of Suffolk’s 38 remaining children’s centres.
“We are very concerned at the prospect of rushing through a major redesign of council services when full and democratic discussions with staff, service-users and the wider public are not possible,” the union says in its letter.
The council provoked protests last year when it first mooted the redesign, which involves reducing opening hours at 11 centres, repurposing nine and completely closing two centres.
It shelved the plans in the run up to the general election.
The council launched a public consultation into the proposals in February, but has yet to report on its findings or respond to UNISON’s submission, says the union.
But the council now plans to make a final decision on the redesign process in less than two months’ time, at its cabinet meeting on 14 July.
UNISON warns that there is no evidence to support a move to a family hub model of provision and says full impact assessments need to be carried out and incorporated into the plans which were drawn up before the pandemic.
The council’s plans for 5-19 provision rely heavily on voluntary providers, which have been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic, warns the union.
UNISON Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett said: “Suffolk County Council wants to rush through its shake up to children’s centres while everyone else is busy worrying about the biggest public health crisis in generations.
“Council chiefs know this shake-up is controversial — that’s why they put it on the back-burner during last year’s general election.
“And they quite rightly paused the process in recent weeks.
“To now plough on when staff, service-users and the wider public are unable to effectively contribute to the discussion is simply not right.
“The council must hit the pause button until it can properly analyse what children’s services are required in Suffolk in the world after Covid-19.”
Suffolk councillor Jack Abbott has launched a petition to stop the closures, describing children’s centres as a ‘vital lifeline for hundreds of families.’
It calls on the council to ‘avert the damage that will be caused to families by immediately ending their plans to close our county’s children’s centres.’