Kent County Council is to keep open almost half of the 23 children’s centres it had threatened to close as part of a cost-cutting shake-up. But while there is a reprieve for the 11 on the council’s initial hitlist, some will have their opening hours cut and 12 centres are to close. Some of the 12 earmarked for closure could be run from other places – although there are no details of how that could happen.
The shake-up of Kent’s 97 centres has proved controversial and KCC faced protests and campaigns to keep many centres open – often backed by Conservative MPs.
About 6,000 people responded to a three-month public consultation on the plans, with many criticising what they saw as cuts to a vital service for parents and young children.
Cllr Jenny Whittle (Con), cabinet member for specialist childrens services, acknowledged the consultation had demonstrated the role the centres played.
She said: “I have listened to parents and seen first-hand the impact these centres have and, where they are vital to the community, we have found ways to keep them open.
“This consultation has never been about reducing services and these will continue to be delivered in alternative buildings in areas where a centre closes.
“I am confident that these changes will result in high-quality, effective children’s centres to support the children and families of Kent into the future.”
Cllr Whittle added: “We have had to make tough decisions, but we have sought to save centres from closure where it would have had a substantial impact.”
Several MPs – including Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins and Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson – backed campaigns for those under threat.
The remaining centres will be reorganised. There will be 17 lead centres, linked to 43 full-time centres and 25 part-time centres.
Where KCC provides other services from the centres that are to close – such as health – they will be relocated.
The re-organisation will be considered by county councillors next Thursday.
The 12 centres that will close are
Cherry Blossom in Wye, Squirrel Lodge in Furley Park, Ashford, Little Bees in Littlebourne, Daisy Chains in Meopham, Little Painters in Painters Ash, Loose, Dunton Green, Merry-Go-Round in Westerham, Hadlow, Larkfield, Pembury and Primrose in North Deal.
KCC is exploring the possibility of keeping buildings at Loose, Dunton Green and Hadlow to deliver outreach services in the area.
Of the 11 centres that will remain open, five will stay as they are
St Mary’s, Faversham; New Romney; Folkestone Early Years; Temple Hill in Dartford; and Woodgrove in Sittingbourne.
The remaining six will open with reduced opening hours
Maypole in Dartford; The Village in Folkstone; Swalecliffe in Whitstable; Briary in Herne Bay; Apple Tree in Chartham; Marden and Tina Rintoul in Hersden.
In Dover, two centres will merge: The Daisy and The Buttercup.
Original article published by Paul Francis on the KM: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/childrens-centres-9429/