Children centre staff ‘gagged’ ahead of Cabinet vote, says UNISON

Suffolk children’s centre staff are being ‘gagged’ ahead of a crucial vote on the future of the service, UNISON reveals today.

Staff were told in meetings last week not to speak to the public or press about the planned cuts to the service.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet will vote tomorrow on closing 10 centres and cutting hours at another 11, leaving the county with just 17 full-time family hubs. In 2015 Suffolk had 47 full-time children’s centres.

One worker, whose children’s centre faces conversion to a part-time family hub, said: “We’ve all been told not to speak publicly about the changes, but it’s important people understand what’s going on.

“The council has said that buildings don’t deliver services, people do. But the centres are perfectly set up for what we do.

“Outreach means spending money on renting sites with no storage, so anyone doing sessions is limited to the equipment they can fit in their car. You spend your day travelling rather than actually providing services.

“I can’t believe that they’re still going ahead with these changes during this pandemic. The council should listen to its staff and protect our centres.”

UNISON has repeatedly urged the council not to make far-reaching decisions on the service’s future during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Council has claimed any savings would be used to hire more staff, but UNISON says that is unlikely given a £23m Covid-19 financial shortfall.

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett said: “It’s outrageous that staff have been gagged at this time, banned from talking about the future of the service they spend their lives delivering.

“But it’s in keeping with a Council that seems intent on dodging public debate on these controversial changes. It shelved the proposals during the general election and decided to push on in the middle of a global public health crisis when everyone’s attention was rightly elsewhere.

“For the sake of Suffolk’s families, the Council must abandon these cuts.”