SENIOR councillors have defended their decision to end their control of three children’s centres and close five youth centres, claiming the move will safeguard - and in some cases improve - the vital services they offer.
Rotherham Council’s cabinet agreed today to give up control of a series of children’s and youth centres across the borough, with some of the buildings handed over to other bodies, including schools, under agreements that will free the council of the running costs but will still allow them access to run sessions from the buildings.
It is expected the changes will save the cash-strapped authority around £500,000 in the years ahead, contributing to the £30m the council has to save over the next two years.
But the decision has been slammed by campaigners who argued the services were vital to increase early years support for families.
The council said the changes will present the opportunity to train its early years staff to provide new services which are aimed at keeping more children away from going into care.
The numbers of council children’s centres will reduce from 12 to nine, with other activities set to take place at the sites in Park View, Broom Valley and Wath Victoria.
Leases for youth centres at Herringthorpe, Treeton, Kiveton, Maltby and Swinton will also be surrendered, with staff moved to other bases.
Coun Gordon Watson said in the meeting: “This is not a decimation of the service.
“There is a lot of love for children’s centres; what people love is the staff and delivery. The staff and service will still be there, we believe this is the right thing to do.
“This is about continuing with a good service and moving it forwards to make it more targeted, within the constraints we have got.
“Early intervention is much better for families than waiting until there is a crisis,” he said.
One service expected to be expanded is family group conferencing, where help is given to help extended families cope with those experiencing problems.
The changes are the second and third phases of work planned to modernise the service and save money, with ten children’s centres closing several years ago.
However, since those centres went the actual numbers using the services has increased.
Council leader Chris Read conceded they would rather not be in a position of having to make cuts, but said: “We priorities staff and services over buildings. There is not a single front line job which will be lost.”
Rotherham’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion, said she was “deeply disappointed” at the decision, and fears the organisational change could lead to services being increasingly vulnerable to further cuts.
She added: “I am of course sensitive to the extremely challenging financial circumstances RMBC faces as a result of massive central government funding cuts. But I am clear that cutting the already much reduced Sure Start offer in Rotherham is not the right answer.”
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, which has campaigned against the closure of children’s centres, said: “Sadly, the current picture is one which is becoming all too familiar. More than 1,000 centres have closed since 2009, there has been a 53 per cent cut to children’s centre budgets since the turn of the decade. Depressingly, the Government is showing little sign that it grasps the seriousness of the situation or the damaging consequences for public policy in the long term of hundreds of thousands of families at risk of serious problems being left without help.
“If you’re cutting back on preventative services today, you are simply storing up problems for public services and taxpayers tomorrow.”