"Reconsider these flawed plans": Lib Dems voice community concerns over children's services


On 10th February Lambeth Liberal Democrats submitted a response to Labour-run Lambeth's proposed cuts to children's services across the borough. Representing the views of more than 500 local residents who signed our petition, we urged the council to "reconsider these flawed plans".

In our letter we demand: 

  • That the council maintains the current levels of provision
  • That all centres remain open
  • That the Council guarantees children’s centre funding at the existing level for five years

We await the results of the public consultation and are committed to fighting so that every child in the borough has the best start in life. 

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Read the full text of our response here: 

Dear Councillor Brathwaite,
 
We write on behalf of the Lambeth Liberal Democrats, and over 500 people who have signed our petition, in response to the current consultation on Children’s Centres in the borough to express our objection to the cuts. Whilst we appreciate the financial pressures that Lambeth Council faces as a consequence of the Conservative government’s swingeing cuts, we maintain that these are a vital public resource and that the proposals fail to deliver support for families, accessibility or a sustainable long-term service.
 
We urge you to cancel the implementation of these plans and we demand the following from April 2019:
  • That the council maintains the current levels of provision
  • That all centres remain open
  • That the Council guarantees children’s centre funding at the existing level for five years.
Children’s Centres bind the borough together by providing a space for parents and carers and their children to meet and play. They play a vital role in breaking negative cycles - they combat isolation in new parents, reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness, contribute to good health and social development, provide parenting skills, language tuition and financial advice - and can stop vulnerable families from finding themselves falling into poverty and distress. It is also well-documented that Children’s Centres can be an early warning indicator in the fight against domestic abuse and violence, playing a role as a vital source of refuge and emotional support. Removing barriers is an important part of maintaining the position of children’s centres in the ecosystem of our social care system. As with so many things, prevention reduces the pressure elsewhere in the system. This is being put at risk in Lambeth with these proposals.
 
The ambition for children’s centres must be to provide every child with the best start in life. By providing a range of services which is available to all they provide assistance to families facing a spectrum of difficulties. The needs of an individual child, which is of paramount importance, cannot be defined by superficial assessments of their parents’ background. Children’s centres are egalitarian spaces where children and parents can play and socialise side-by-side regardless of age, qualification, income, class or ethnicity; this is more important than ever and provides for the greater good of our communities.
 
The proposals compromise the ability of parents in Lambeth to access services. Any reduction is undesirable and under the proposed plans, fewer children’s centres would have to serve the same (or increasing) number of families. This is likely to hugely overstretch services, cause undue stress to staff, and reduce the quality of support. In parts of the borough, the plans would also mean that services are much further away from families than currently. For example, in Streatham a family living in South Streatham ward would have to walk for over half an hour to reach Streatham’s only core children’s centre. The plans risk putting vital services out of reach, causing families that need support to drop out of using the centres, and leaving problems that could be averted to develop into long-term issues.
 
There is little detail on the operational plans post-implementation and how this will affect frontline staff. This is of concern firstly for the impact it may have on staff whose jobs are put at risk and those left to continue the work; secondly, it gives little confidence that there is a thought-through plan for a holistic approach to future provision.
 
The consultation on the proposals is deeply unsatisfactory.  The survey is lengthy and presents a number of flawed choices which encourage residents to prioritise the services they wish to keep and which should be cut.  We reject this false and disingenuous premise.
 
These plans represent neither a reasonable compromise nor a radical rethinking of the way Lambeth approaches its provision for children and families. The savings the proposed cuts will generate are tiny when compared to the sums spent on the Town Hall project and on the redevelopment of Carnegie Library against the wishes of the local community. It is unacceptable that the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities should bear the burden. To enact the plans will inevitably mean that those who need assistance and protection will be exposed to more risk.
 
In a borough that suffers from unacceptably high levels of child poverty, with many more families struggling to cope on a daily basis, we need to place compassion and aspiration at the heart of policy-making. The Sure Start scheme in which many of these centres have their origins was a shining beacon of these principles that stretches across political and demographic divides; it would be a tragedy to see the abandonment of its legacy in Lambeth and you can be assured that the Liberal Democrats, as well as many others, will make it a priority to hold the Council to account on its approach to children’s centres.
 
We urge you to reconsider these flawed plans and to protect the vital services that are provided by Lambeth’s children’s centres.  Whilst we recognise the scale of the challenge the Council faces we don’t accept that you must close or strip back provision at half of our children’s centres.
Yours sincerely,
 
Doug Buist
Chair, Lambeth Liberal Democrats

Sarah Lewis
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall

Helen Thompson
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham

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