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23.01.19

Norfolk County Council rubber-stamps plans to close 38 children’s centres amid fierce protests

Controversial proposals to close 38 children centres in Norfolk have been voted through by councillors after a six-hour meeting at County Hall.

Protestors turned up outside the meeting, campaigning against the plans to close the majority of the existing 53 centres— but the council decisively backed the proposals.

Norfolk County Council initially submitted plans in September to close 46 of the region’s children’s centres and replace them with 15 bases, two per district, offering outreach services in people’s homes and community venues as it admitted it needed to slash £5m from its children’s budget.

Following a fierce backlash and wide-spread protests, the council announced last week that this had been revised to 38 centres as it “listened and updated its proposal.”

The Conservative-run council said it wanted to create a “new, targeted and effective” early childhood and family service with a new outreach service to help the most vulnerable families in their own homes.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the executive director of children’s services, Sara Tough, said the proposals were not about saving money but about redesigning the service to provide better outcomes for parents in the county.

Committee chairman Stuart Dark stated: “I'm confident the new service will provide a more targeted, consistent and accessible approach, in line with national best practice.”

But Labour councillor Mike Smith-Clare said he was “distraught” over the decision, commenting: “For some of those most marginalised individuals… children's centres have been a lifeline, not just to them but their children and for what should be future generations.

“We are hurtling towards an abyss and leading towards a stage where we are relying on limited resources, limited amounts of money and limited support.”

Around 70% of the county’s children centres will close when the approved changes will take effect in October.

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