Approval for consultation on shake-up of Children's Centres

Darlington and Stockton Times: (8313811) (8313811)

A COUNCIL is to start consulting on a shake-up that could see two thirds of its Children’s Centres close.

Durham County Council will spend three months seeking people’s views on how the service should be delivered and which centres should shut.

It is examining the service as it says it has failed to produce the hoped-for improvement in the lives of the county’s poorest children so that they will perform better when they reach school age.

The council is looking to reduce the number of centre buildings from 43 to 15 but says the 28 closed centres would still provide services from other community buildings.

Officials believe the shake-up would save it about £1m a year, from an annual budget of £4.9m, at a time when the authority faces cuts of £224m between 2011 and 2017.

They also believe that it might help the service reach some children whose families are put off by the existing centres and that it could form part of an approach of those most in need.

The council’s cabinet heard today (Wednesday, July 16) that a pilot project running in Chester-le-Street is working well.

Stakeholders will be consulted from the end of this month until October.

A detailed report with proposals is expected to be prepared for the cabinet in the Spring.

Cabinet member for Children’s Services, Ossie Johnson, said youngsters in their early years did not do as well in County Durham as in other parts of the country.

“Buildings don’t deliver services, people do. If we reduce our spending on buildings we will be able to retain family workers and ensure people get the services they need.”

Liberal Democrat councillor for Framwellgate Moor, Mark Wilkes, said he supported the principles behind the shake-up but believed the council should look at future provision as if it was starting from scratch.

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