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Education chief tries to quash fears over budget cuts to children's centres
12:32pm Wednesday 20th February 2013 in News
DUDLEY'S education chief says he is doing everything he can to "allay people's fears" that children's centres could fall victim to savage council cuts.
A proposed £320,000 cut to the children's centres budget was approved last week by members of Dudley Council's cabinet - sparking concerns it could lead to some of the 20 centres around the borough having to share services or close altogether.
The new leader of Dudley Conservatives, councillor Patrick Harley, says he has spoken to a number of people involved with children's centres who are "dead against this proposal and extremely worried".
But Dudley's cabinet member for children's services, Labour councillor Tim Crumpton, has stressed the cut - and other proposed cost-saving measures in the children's services budget - "will not affect frontline services".
Children's centres offer support to families ranging from classes and activities to help and advice on parenting through partnership work with Dudley Council, Dudley PCT, Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice Bureau, Action for Children and voluntary services.
But cllr Harley fears the budget cut and associated plans to give the council greater responsibility for the finances of the centres could jeopardise the close relationship the facilities currently share with schools (many are run by headteachers) and other community leaders and organisations.
He said: “If a school doesn’t have input into a centre it doesn’t have that closeness and it’s very likely children will get lost in the system and we won’t find out what difficulties they have until they are six or seven.
“It’s a short-sighted exercise, and a real backwards step. If they do go ahead Jane Porter - director of children's services - and Tim Crumpton will have a legacy of shame.”
But cllr Crumpton said no changes will be made until the matter has gone out to consultation after a final decision is taken at the budget meeting on Monday March 4.
He is also inviting cllr Harley and former Tory cabinet member for children’s services, councillor Liz Walker, to discuss the issue further at a meeting next Monday.
He said: "I'm doing everything I can to allay people's fears."
But he said he believes had the Conservatives remained in control of Dudley Council they would have had to make the same difficult choice - and he said the cut to the children's centres budget was only necessary because of a £2.8m shortfall in the Early Intervention Grant which the council receives from Tory-controlled central government.