Children’s centres in Lancashire at risk in shake up

Lancashire County Council leader, County Coun Jennifer Mein

Lancashire County Council leader, County Coun Jennifer Mein

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A major shake-up in Lancashire county council services is set to see the council focusing its early years’ help on the county’s 10,000 neediest families.

But more than 210 jobs are to be axed and the changes mean dozens of children’s centres could close.

The transformation will provide us with an opportunity to work with those families we really need to work with.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi

The job losses, which will hit early help services, including some commissioned services from external providers, are part of a £7.4m cutback approved earlier in the year.

The council’s cabinet agreed how it wanted the slimmed down and re-targeted service to work – a day before Government watchdog Ofsted slated some of the council’s children’s services as “inadequate”, but singled out the children’s centres for praise.

Councillors were told the job losses - equivalent to 210 full-time posts - will be combined with far reaching changes in the way the council’s well being, prevention and early help service is delivered.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, the council’s director of Public Health, said: “This is a big change. What we are proposing now is a 0-19 universal offer to all young people of Lancashire, along with a much more focused concentration on the 10,000 families across the county.

“The transformation will provide us with an opportunity to work with those families we really need to work with.”

The changes would affect not just county council staff but partner organisations providing services too.

It is intended the new service will be delivered across five areas: Preston; Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire; Hyndburn, Ribble Valley and Rossendale; Lancaster Fylde and Wyre; and Burnley and Pendle.

It will be accessed through the council’s proposed 56 new Neighbourhood Centres and it is possible that some of the existing children’s centres could extend their remit to become Neighbourhood Centres, offering a range of services to their local communities.

County Coun Susie Charles said she was concerned that parts of the county would miss out and said: “I am appealing on behalf of rural areas...there are a lot of people so vulnerable in rural areas.

“Also in rural areas we get less from the county council i.e. we don’t have pavements and street lighting so please let us keep this outreach.”

Council leader County Coun Jenny Mein replied the cuts made it even more important every service is delivered wisely: “We recognise pockets of need all over the county. That’s what makes it even more important to deliver to those most in need,”

Dr Karunanithi stressed services will be delivered where there is most need in both rural and urban areas and said: “It is not just a building based service. A better working with families means we have already started working with people in their homes - it gives better understanding.”

Consultation will now begin on the proposals, which are due to be introduced between April 2016 and March 2017.