DUDLEY Council has restarted the tender process for contracts as it looks to shake-up its specialist early years provision.

The council had paused the process to enable parents to have their say on proposed changes to the service for young children with special needs after protests and a petition called for the plan to be halted.

Parents of little ones who attend Leapfrog and Leapfrog Too, at Netherton Park Nursery School, spoke of their worries about the plans to decentralise the current provision and instead create five early years inclusion hubs at locations across the borough by the autumn.

They said the service provided by Leapfrog was outstanding and expressed worries that any new facilities created may not live up to the same standard.

After taking their concerns to the council house in April, they then collected more than 1,000 names on a petition calling for a rethink of the plan – saying not enough time had been allotted to make such sweeping changes.

Following this, Dudley Council announced it was pausing the tender application process for potential providers while a public consultation was carried out.

This, however, has now concluded and the council has re-started the tender process with a view to awarding contracts soon.

Councillor Ruth Buttery, cabinet member for children’s services and education, said: “We have now recommenced the tender process to deliver five early years specialist hubs across the borough and will soon be awarding contracts to the successful providers.

“We will remain in close contact with parents and carers of children as we take these important next steps to increase the number of spaces available.

“Transitional arrangements will be made over the coming months, with the five hubs set to be up and running by the end of the calendar year, and we look forward to welcoming children to their new provisions as they continue their educational journey.”

Campaigners, however, remain anxious about what any future provision will look like, with a number stating that they felt the questions in the consultation were guiding particpants to respond in a certain way.