Children’s Scrutiny Chair Slams Council Report and Demands Urgent Meeting

The Chair of the Children’s & Young Peoples Overview & Scrutiny meeting Cllr Dave Conway slammed the quality of a Council report and demanded that officers present a more comprehensive and up to date document before the Cabinet meet on 25th August.

His outburst came after it was revealed that the Children’s Centres attendance figures used in the report to members of the C&YPS committee were inaccurate and substantially out of date.

It was also revealed that the £2.25million worth of cuts, which equates to 30% of the Children’s Centres income, had already been removed from the budget.

There was also confusion over staffing levels due to the way the report was written which also drew criticism from the committee chair.

The Cabinet Member with responsibility for C&YPS, Cllr Debra Gratton reminded the committee that the recent statutory public consultation was not about the £2.25million of cuts as that had already been decided and agreed by the Council executive. It was about the services and facilities that would be on offer at the Children’s Centres in the future.

The Director of Children & Young People Services told the members of the scrutiny meeting that a reduction in staff and services at the city’s children’s centres could not be avoided due to the massive reduction in her departmental budget. She told the meeting that the Children’s Centres used to offer a Rolls Royce of a service but had had to reduce the level of service provided to the equivalent of a lesser model as a result of the necessity to save £12.6milion across her department. She said that she, the assistant directors and the managers had used a RAG rating system to identity the possible savings. It had been their priority to protect the Safeguarding Children side of the department.

Both the Cabinet Member and Departmental Director reminded the committee that no officer or politician found making these cuts easy or in the least bit palatable, but there was no alternative.

Committee Chair Cllr Dave Conway revealed that following his extensive research he had established that any Children’s Centre that was closed would be subject to a financial claw back by central government of around £1million per site. He interrogated the officers to whether this had played a role in the retention of the 7 Children’s Centres originally earmarked for closure.

Cllr Conway speculated whether the Labour Party had really saved the Children’s Centre’s due to the depth of public feeling or the fact that Central Government would get to claw back much more than was potentially being saved by this reorganisation.

Cllr Conway proposed that the report presented be rejected and a more comprehensive document, including accurate and up to date figures along with extensive feedback from the recent consultation, be presented to a specially arranged meeting of the C&YPS. This must be before the Cabinet meet on the 25th August to make a decision on the reorganisation of the children’s centres.

The committee agreed with the proposal.

It was also bad news for Children in school who were deaf or had severe hearing impairment.

Despite an ePetition with 588 signatures calling on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to reverse these cuts, protect services for deaf children and ensure all deaf children in Stoke on Trent have a fair chance to achieve, the Director of C&YPS and her officers revealed that the cuts to staffing had already been implemented.

Cllr Alistair Watson told the meeting that he had calculated that there would be around a 50% reduction in staffing.

C&YPS officers assured the committee members that support for deaf children would not been adversely affected and would include:

The support comes from:-

Teachers of the deaf with specialist qualifications – There are 5 qualified teachers of the deaf (June 2011), a reduction of 2 since April 2010.

Communication Support Workers – Numbers vary according to need but all hold additional qualifications such as British Sign Language and speech and language (currently 8 in post).

Audiology – One of the teachers of the deaf will qualify as an audiologist in 2011.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with the Chair of the C&YPS Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Dave Conway.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

Planning go-ahead for ‘Discovery’ city academy

The news has been welcomed by the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton.

“This gives the green light for the new Discovery Academy to be built and closes another chapter in the BSF story in the city. This new academy will provide first class facilities replacing two high schools and will also act as a hub for community use by people wanting to access the facilities available out of school hours. With the start of development at REACH at Trent Vale, parents, pupils and staff are now starting to see a real difference in the educational landscape in the city.”

Work on the new school, which will replace Mitchell and Edensor High Schools, will begin on site at the in Lauder Place North, Bentilee in September this year and the first pupils are set to move into the new buildings in September 2013.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Save Children’s Centres?

Council Officers told staff from all the city’s children centres at a meeting at the Bridge Centre last week that all the centres are to be saved from closure but there would be a 10% reduction in staffing levels.

Staff have been informed that positions have been deleted and that a “Ëœpool’ had been established from where those staff who are to be displaced will be picked from.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have denied that any decisions have been made.

“We are in unprecedented times due to the Government funding reductions being imposed on the city council. We need to make savings of £33million. At the moment we are consulting on budget proposals, so as such no decisions have been made about where these reductions will be made. These decisions will be finalised in the New Year. In the mean time I would urge city residents to give their views on the proposals by visiting www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk, writing to Let’s Talk, Freepost, Our City or by emailing me directly on debra.gratton@stoke.gov.uk”

The story has also been picked up by Cllr Mike Barnes.

Children Centre staff have now been told that no Centres are to close as City Council briefs all Children’s Services staff about jobs, cuts and the restructure in meetings and briefings held last week. This will be great news for all those petitioning and campaigning to save them.

This strengthens the view of many cynics, such as myself, who believed there was never any intention of closing any Children Centres, and that it was just a diversionary tactic by the Labour led coalition, whilst other “controversial” cuts will now be heralded as the “preferred option” and well worth sacrificing for the Children’s Centres.

This is a disingenuous strategy more about trying to look good than actually genuinely working through the dire financial predicament we find ourselves in and coming up with solutions that retain the services that people really need and deserve.

Remember that this all started with the leader, Pervez, presenting £33m of cuts, and only when challenged and pressed that the Cabinet revealed that the real level of cuts needed was much less and that the proposed cuts is a “shopping list” ““ precisely what we were told would not happen. Then we find that the redundancy costs are not included and that council officers, quite rightly I might add, are trying to find a financial solution to that particular problem. But why not be open and honest about it all.

Children Centres were always clearly an essential part of the future of our city ““ raising aspirations, abilities, and supporting those in need. They are highly valued by the parents and public who have seen the tangible benefits they have given to individuals, families and communities.

It seems that one battle has already been won ““ but beware ““ bricks and mortar are of little use without the resources and staff to make them function. All those campaigning for the retention of these facilities must now look closely at the reductions in funding and the cuts in staff still on the cards in Children’s Centres.

I fear that if the campaign now relaxes then the reductions in Children’s Centre Services will be as severe as first proposed ““ but hidden behind a thin, hollow, veneer of building retention.

This story brings the openness of the council’s “Ëœlets talk’ consultation into question.

There seem s to be a denial that decisions have been made in relation to the children’s centres and yet we have reports from sources who were at the meeting that would suggest that the future for this important service has been mapped out, all be it with a 10% reduction in staff.