Cuts not as bad as feared for children’s centres

Joseph Bulmer

CHILDREN’S centres across North Devon and Torridge will not be as badly affected by funding cuts as first feared, it has emerged.

Devon County Council has said it will see a reduction in its early years services of nearly �3 million following Government cutbacks, but the region’s Sure Start centres for families with children under five are not expected to bear the worst.

Centres across Devon, including Barnstaple, Bideford, Ilfracombe, South Molton, Torrington and Holsworthy have been given an indication of their next year’s budget, with most seeing an average income loss of 10 per cent.

The Government’s new Early Intervention Grant – the former Children’s Centres grant combined with other grants - to Devon has been cut by 17 per cent.

All but two of the centres are run by other organisations, most notably the charity Action For Children.

“Devon has 43 children’s centres and we will not be closing any of them. In fact it now looks as if we could be one of the few authorities not to be closing any,” said local County Councillor Andrea Davis, who is portfolio holder for children’s services.

But she warned there would be reduction in back office functions such as management and administration, which meant the front line service was somewhat protected.

“Everybody is going to have to cut back, in all levels of public service. In Devon we are not passing this on to the Children’s Centres. We have remodelled the funding so the centres in the areas of most deprivation have the least cut and it is also affected by the numbers of children in each area.

“It’s important they carry on doing what they do with local families. I appreciate only too well what it is like to have small children and how lonely it can sometimes be.”

Helen Hallam, who manages the Children’s Centres covering Barnstaple, South Molton and Chulmleigh, said the local authority had been very supportive of the centres and it understood the work they did.

“As far as Barnstaple, South Molton and Chulmleigh go we are not looking at any reduction in opening hours,” she said.

“We are looking at some restructure and I don’t know the full extent of that at this stage but we will do what we can to ensure the needs of families are met.”

Jane Kivlin oversees the Bideford and Holsworthy centres and confirmed they had received their indicative budget and it looked as if across Devon the reduction would be around 10 per cent.

“Which is a considerable relief to children’s centres because the overall reduction was significantly higher than that,” she said.

“We’re all going through our annual reviews. That process will be completed for us within the next three weeks and it will be much clearer then.

“The indication is we will be maintaining some universal services that anyone can access and there will be a balance so there is still a good capacity for responding to families with specific support needs.

“We’re all pleased the local authority has recognised the value invested in early years – they have always supported children’s centres and I think that is why we have seen this.”