Shake-up of children’s centres in question

ONE of Yorkshire’s biggest councils could be forced to rethink controversial plans to “streamline” early years children’s services after a special meeting to be held early in the new year.

Members of Sheffield Council’s ruling cabinet were heckled at a meeting earlier this month after agreeing plans to cut £6.8m from early years education budgets to save council cash.

The decision has now been “called-in” by members of the council who oppose it, triggering a special meeting of the authority’s Children, Young People and Family Support Scrutiny Committee.

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Under the proposals 36 children’s centres would be merged into 17 “areas” with staff managing services at two or three venues, a move leading councillors say will secure “huge savings” in administration costs.

The authority has already confirmed that 50 jobs will be axed as a result of its proposals and parents and staff from the children’s centres and nurseries affected fear facilities may close.

Council officers said the scrutiny meeting had been called for January 9 as a result of “concerns about the impact on a wide range of early years providers and wide public interest in the issue”.

It is also understood that members of the committee have been asked to investigate worries about a lack of consultation with parents and early years services providers before the decision was made.

Parents protested outside the December meeting and many also attended to make their feelings clear to the council’s children’s services spokesman Coun Jackie Drayton.

At the time Coun Drayton told parents she understood that £6.8m in cuts would affect children, families and the 50 members of staff whose jobs were at risk, but added the council had to make savings.

Members of the scrutiny committee have the power to send the plan back to the cabinet to be redrawn, take no action or call for the full council to examine the plan.