Outcry as children’s centres are set to close

Coun Olivia Rowley
Coun Olivia Rowley

Children’s centres could be facing closure in a service shake-up by Wakefield Council.

Fears have been raised that families could lose lifeline services after plans emerged to reduce the number of centres to cut costs.

The future of centres in Gawthorpe, Sharlston, Normanton, Flanshaw, Wrenthorpe, Horbury, Havercroft and Crigglestone is uncertain and staff could be facing redundancy.

Under plans to be discussed by Wakefield Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, 23 children’s centres could be centralised to six main centres and three ‘linked’ sites, which would offer additional support in areas of high deprivation.

Wakefield would be left with just Sunbeam Centre in Lupset and Castle Centre in Sandal as two of the six main sites.

Stanley Children’s Centre and Pinmoor in Eastmoor would become ‘link’ sites to Sunbeam.

The remaining centres - Butterflies in Normanton, Sharlston Children’s Centre, Michaelmas in Flanshaw, Maypole in Ossett, Small Steps in Wrenthorpe, Apple Tree in Horbury, Havercroft Children’s Centre and Forrest Wood in Crigglestone - would be transferred to nearby schools, but it is not clear whether their services would continue.

Ashley Greenhalgh, 27, who uses the Maypole Centre in Gawthorpe, said: “The centre has been a lifeline to me and many others and we would be absolutely distraught if it was to close.

“The council absolutely cannot shut this centre down. It would be a tragedy for children and parents alike. What would they do?”

Ossett councillor Tony Richardson, who chairs the advisory board at the centre, added: “It would be a huge loss for all of the Ossett and Gawthorpe community particularly the deprived areas that use and need the centre.”

Under changes to the way services for young people and families are delivered, the council could set up seven new “Early Help Hubs” around the district.

The children’s centres, along with other support and advice services, would be run from the new hubs.

A report to Tuesday’s meeting said some staff could be made redundant and others re-deployed. It also said resources needed to be targeted towards people who most need them.

Wakefield Council is facing £185m in budget cuts over the next five years. The report said “fewer available resources and the need to make budget savings” had contributed to the planned service re-shuffle.

Horbury councillor Janet Holmes, said: “It is deeply upsetting that these children’s centres face closure. Sadly, it is something that the council do not have much choice about, due to the central government taking more money from local councils.”

Leader of Normanton Town Council, councillor Carol Moran said: “The town council have heard the rumours but have not been given any official notification at this stage.

“We are very concerned about the future of Butterflies, who provide an excellent service to families around the Normanton area.”

If the proposals are approved a formal consultation will run until October.

Coun Olivia Rowley, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We need to be more innovative and creative in the way we deliver services for children and their families across the district.

“This will include looking at the role of children’s centres in our Early Help Offer. We spend a significant amount of our budget on the management and administration of these buildings, in addition to overhead costs.”

See next week’s Express for a special report.