Last chance to save Warwickshire's children's centres comes to nothing

Campaigners hoping to save Warwickshire's children's centres protesting near the Houses of Parliament after being invited by Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western
Campaigners hoping to save Warwickshire's children's centres protesting near the Houses of Parliament after being invited by Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western

A last-ditch attempt to keep all of Warwickshire’s children’s centres open after a decision to close 25 of them has failed.

The cabinet of Warwickshire County Council initially decided to close 25 of 39 children’s centres in the county, and replace the remaining 14 with ‘children and family centres’ which will look after children and young people aged up to 19, on Thursday November 9.

But its decision was called back to an ‘extraordinary’ full council meeting held today (Wednesday November 29) in which every councillor would get a vote.

A Labour-led motion to use £1.12 million of the council’s reserves to keep the centres open for another year before the 2018/19 budget was put forward at the meeting.

This was amended by the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, who changed the words to say that the centres still needed to develop and change so they were sustainable in the long term. The original motion suggested keeping everything the same.

Much of the debate focused on whether it was prudent to use reserves to fund the centres, and whether the new proposals would actually improve the life chances of children in Warwickshire.

Warwick and Leamington MP and county councillor Matt Western (Lab, Leamington Willes) said: “This is a simple motion and one that everyone should support.

“This authority has the reserves and the wit to protect children’s centres.”

But Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Con, Stour and the Vale) said the new proposals were an improvement on the Warwickshire’s centres despite the cuts.

She said: “There’s been a massive misrepresentation of what’s being proposed.

“I’m really optimistic about this. We’ve done something that will be a real credit to Warwickshire.

“I urge you not be driven by politics, not to be driven by headlines, but to be driven by future users of this service.”

And portfolio holder for children’s services Cllr Jeff Morgan (Con, Bulkington and Whitestone) said using reserves to keep the centres open would not solve inequality.

He said: “It’s not just a question of reserves. The answer is not a universal service, but a comprehensive offer for the most needy.”

After the two-hour debate, the Conservative majority voted against the motion by 35 votes to 18, meaning the county cabinet’s original decision will stand.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jonathan Chilvers (Green, Leamington Brunswick) said: “I’m disappointed that the Conservatives weren’t willing to vote for this prudent motion jointly put forward by Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems.

“We do need to keep improving our support for families, but that’s not going to happen if you cut £1 million from the budget.

“Of course money’s tight but we’ve shown that the cash is there to invest in Warwickshire families in the crucial first two years of child’s life - this is a priority.

“It’s time for the Conservatives to make the right choice on this and put in the money that will bring the best results for years to come.”

And Cllr Seccombe added: "Conservative councillors rejected the motion on the basis that we have already waited nearly four years for change.

"Our financial position requires a decision now and people do need certainty. We are elected to make difficult decisions and we are not afraid to do so.

"We have been overwhelmed by the response to our consultation and it has helped us to shape a service model that we know will serve all Warwickshire families.

“This service has not changed for over 10 years and yet people’s needs have. We are acutely aware that we are not reaching many hundreds of families, especially our most vulnerable, and this has to change."