DUDLEY'S education boss has promised none of the borough’s 20 children’s centres will close within the next 12 months after fears were raised about the future of the popular facilities.
Councillor Patrick Harley, Dudley’s new Conservative leader, last week highlighted concerns that some of the centres - which provide support to parents and families - could be forced to share services or close after a proposed £320,000 budget cut was voted through by Dudley Council’s cabinet on February 12.
But Dudley’s cabinet member for children’s services, councillor Tim Crumpton, announced just hours after meeting with cllr Harley on Monday (February 25) that any possible closures would be held off for at least 12 months.
He told Monday’s full council meeting: “We have made a decision that means we do not have to close a children’s centre at all for the next 12 months.”
He said the council, hit by a £2.8m shortfall in the Early Intervention Grant from central government, was under pressure “to ensure services are provided to the areas of greatest need”.
The leading Labour cllr said he would be consulting widely on the issue over the next 12 months and he added: “I’d choose looking after children far more than filling a pothole.
“If we can keep every children’s centre open that’s what we will do - but it’s not about the buildings, it’s about the services that are provided.”
He also dismissed suggestions the funding cut would jeopardise the close relationship the facilities share with schools, community leaders and organisations that enables any child welfare issue or learning disadvantage to be spotted early.
And he stressed: “Headteachers will continue to be integral part of how children’s centres are run - we can’t do it without local intelligence.”
Cllr Harley, who warned cllr Crumpton and children’s services director Jane Porter not to leave a legacy of shame by closing centres, welcomed the news that the facilities will be spared for the next 12 months adding: “I do understand the predicament the cabinet member and the department are in.”
And he urged councillors across all political parties to work together to ensure the continued existence of the centres into the future and recommended members visit the centres in their wards to see for themselves the “good work they do and listen to the concerns of staff and volunteers”.