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23.12.16

Oxfordshire CC to waive children’s centre rents for one year

Oxfordshire County Council has agreed to waive the rents of children's centres run by community groups for up to one year if paying rent would mean that they face closure. 

The proposals form part of the council’s transformation of children’s centres set to be implemented in March next year in a bid to meet its £6m funding shortfall, with the county’s 44 centres being replaced with a network of 18 council-run centres.

One-off council grants, totalling £163,000, have been given to six communities to help them start up their own groups and another eight have funding agreements in principle.

Oxfordshire councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, the county council’s cabinet member for property, said: “We’ve listened very carefully to the concerns raised and have agreed to offer a rent-free period of up to 12-months, with a review after six months, where necessary to help community-led services get off the ground at council-owned children’s centres.”

“Everyone wants this to be a success and the response of local communities continues to suggest it will be.”

The relief measures will potentially benefit eight centres based in council-owned buildings, saving them up to £38,493 each a year.

Giving rent relief for the eight buildings will lose the council around £155,000 a year, around a tenth of the £1.5m it would have to repay central government in 2017-18 if the buildings are no longer used for children’s services.

Local Green Party leader David Williams, who put forward the original proposal, said that there would be “real” consequences if the centres were closed, hence the council’s attempts to help.

“We are taking money away from the children’s centres but we are spending all the more on children’s care,” Williams confirmed.

“Here we have people who are not experts trying to put together a business plan and we want to help by saying we will waive the rent. We want to try and keep as many of these children’s centres open as possible.”

However, the council has confirmed that the measures do not offer the children’s centres concerned ‘carte blanche’ for them not to pay any rent at all, saying that each centre’s case for relief would be assessed individually.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “All the centres are different. It is not just about the building; it is about all the services they provide and if we can find alternative buildings for them.”

Children's centres have been targeted by councils for savings in recent years with a PSE investigation last year revealing that local authorities have reduced their funding by nearly a third on average since 2010. Earlier this month the government revealed that 156 Sure Start centres closed in 2015, almost twice as many as the previous year.

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