On 15th April Lambeth Council Cabinet will be asked to approve proposals to close five of the borough’s 23 children’s centres and reduce funding at a further seven.
These proposals are deeply unpopular. Over 1000 people responded to a consultation on the proposal with the majority of these expressing major concerns.
There is good reason for this concern: children’s centres have a significant impact on children’s achievement and readiness for school (which is greater for children whose first language is not English), are vital in supporting early intervention and promote social cohesion. These benefits are put at risk by the funding cuts and the Equalities Impact Assessment that has been prepared for cabinet also notes that the impact of the cuts “may be greater for families living in workless or low income households; and for families of children with special educational needs or disabilities”.
The council is undoubtedly forced to make difficult financial choices because of the enormous cuts in central government funding. However these cuts should not mean that the council’s proposals should be accepted without challenge – we must and we will hold the administration to account.
Lambeth Liberal Democrats have been campaigning to protect the services that children’s centres provide. Over 500 members and residents signed our petition to the council asking them to reconsider the cuts and we have supported the Unison-led demonstrations and campaign on the issue. We’ve also sought to engage constructively with the council to understand the background to the cuts and the options available to avoid them or minimise their impact. We remain opposed to the proposed changes:
- The reduced provision will negatively impact the most vulnerable in Lambeth as well as reducing early intervention and damaging social cohesion
- The council has expressed a desire that services continue to be offered in the centres which will lose funding but have not committed to how this will happen or how any such provision can be guaranteed in the future
- We are concerned that the changes are being rushed through before adequate planning can take place. There is currently no assessment of the impact the changes will have on the jobs of people working in the centres and no plan around how the changes would be introduced and communicated to service users
- The budget reduction should be reviewed as part of a wider assessment of the borough’s budget. The council continues to find creative ways of funding pet projects such as the New Town Hall and the estate regeneration plans that residents oppose.
The consultation process has been dispiriting. The council have shown once again that they are not interested in constructive discussion with opposition parties, unions or parents and carers. The fact that the final decision on the cuts will be taken by the cabinet and not full council also highlights the democratic deficit in the borough. Lambeth Labour feel they can do what they want without having to work with the full council or community.
There is one week to go before the cabinet will vote on this damaging and poorly thought through plan. Please write to your local councillor to express your concern and support our demand that the proposals are deferred for a year whilst alternative funding options are further explored and plans around the introduction of any cuts are developed that minimise their impact on children and carers.