Services for vulnerable children and their families will be delivered from seven fewer buildings across Lancashire, after the final stage of an overhaul was approved.
Lancashire County Council announced last November that it wanted to reduce the number of bases for its children and family wellbeing operations from 76 to 57 – as part of a plan to save £1.25m.
The services include those for safeguarding children, supporting family life and promoting health and wellbeing.
Following an initial public consultation, a decision was made to stop operating from 12 buildings – with further work being done to identify another seven where services would cease, out of a list of 14.
The revised proposals have now been approved by members of the authority’s cabinet – and will result in some centres continuing to deliver the services when they were originally due to see staff move out.
“There were too few staff covering the buildings and some of [them] were only delivering a service once a week,” Conservative member for health and wellbeing, Shaun Turner, told the cabinet meeting.
“Freeing up these buildings means a far more effective service can be offered from those that remain.
“It must be remembered that 97 per cent of the total service is delivered into family homes – and the 2018 OFSTED inspection [of the county’s children’s services] found that this part of the service was making a real difference,” County Coun Turner added.
Members also heard that some wellbeing services are now offered at “street level” and can be more reactive to issues like anti-social behaviour.
Several of the buildings which will see children’s services removed provide other facilities – some delivered by the county council and others by third parties.
Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali, said consideration should be given to the wider impact of the changes on buildings like the Walton Lane Children’s Centre in Pendle, which also operates as a maintained nursery school.
“It would have a massive impact of the financial status of the nursery, which is already one of [those] in a difficult position,” County Cllr Ali said.
“County Coun Turner and I visited the centre, and it was quite emotional, because some of the parents have kids with special educational needs and they talked about their experiences.
“If it wasn’t for the dedication of the staff and the support they have, those children would be lost in the educational system and many of those families who benefit from the service being based in the nursery wouldn’t have that support,” he added.
County Coun Turner said he would be “lying if I didn’t say what a great job [the nursery] is doing”.
“The problem is the children and family wellbeing service is incidental to the main business… [and] the whole point is to try and make the [wellbeing] money work better,” he said.
The meeting heard that the final list had been drawn up after considering each building’s running costs and accessibility and the likely impact of any changes on the local community. Not all of the centres are council-owned buildings.
In a statement after the meeting, Edwina Grant OBE, executive director for education and children’s services, said: “Our priority remains to provide the very best service we can to the people in Lancashire in most need of our support.
“After careful consideration and analysis of the results from the consultations, the cabinet has made a decision that will ensure that we can continue to provide the service to the people in our community that need it most.
“The work we do to support people isn’t changing and we’re not reducing the number of front-line workers that provide this valued service. However, by delivering the service from fewer venues we can make much-needed savings while still providing support to people who need it most.”
CHILDREN’S CENTRE CHANGES
The future of children and family wellbeing services was reconsidered at 14 centres, with some in East Lancashire subject to an additional public consultation earlier this year.
Services will continue to be provided from the following buildings:
Bradley Children and Family Wellbeing Services, The Zone, Pendle.
Preston Central Neighbourhood Centre, Riverbank Children’s Centre, Preston.
Clitheroe Family and Wellbeing Services, The Zone, Ribble Valley.
The Chai Centre, Burnley.
Whitegate Children and Family Wellbeing Services, Whitegate Children’s Centre, Padiham.
Longridge Young People’s Centre, Ribble Valley (subject to further discussion with the building owners).
Willow’s Park Children’s Centre, Longridge, Ribble Valley (subject to further discussion with building owners).
***The Children and Family Wellbeing Service will now be delivered from Whitworth Library.
But the service will no longer be delivered from the following buildings:
Marsden Children and Family Wellbeing Services, Walton Lane Children’s Centre, Pendle.
Ashton Children and Family Wellbeing Services, Ashton Young People’s Centre, Preston.
Ribblesdale Children and Family Wellbeing Service, Ribblesdale Children’s Centre Ribble Valley.
Stoneyholme and Daneshouse Children and Family Wellbeing Services, Stoneyholme and Daneshouse Young People’s Centre, Burnley.
Padiham Young People’s Centre.
Whitworth Young People’s Centre, Rossendale.