WE WRITE to highlight three substantive reasons why Oxfordshire County Council must reconsider its proposal to close its 44 children’s centres.
In a letter to Andrew Smith MP – copied to one of us – Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, states categorically that ‘in reorganising provision, local authorities must demonstrate that decisions they make, including closure of a children’s centre site, will not adversely affect outcomes for children.’
As the closure of universal services at all Oxfordshire children’s centres proposed in the current consultation would self-evidently ‘adversely affect outcomes’ for large numbers of Oxfordshire children including the most vulnerable, the county council is clearly not applying this key test to its plans, as 2013 statutory guidance requires it to do.
Nicky Morgan adds ‘my department will be launching an open consultation this autumn about the future of children’s centres across England’.
Though details of this consultation have yet to be announced, it would surely be premature for cabinet to make firm decisions about the future of the county’s children’s centres until the results of this national consultation are known.
Perhaps more telling, we have made enquiries of all 10 of Oxfordshire’s ‘statistical neighbours’ (the local authorities with socio-economic and demographic profiles closest to ours, and presumably facing similar cuts in Government funding) about their plans for the future of children’s centre provision.
Though efficiency savings are being considered by some like Wiltshire, we have yet to find any that are contemplating wholesale closure of children’s centres as envisaged by Oxfordshire.
On the contrary, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Surrey have no plans to close any children’s centres at all.
Council taxpayers can justifiably ask their councillors why Oxfordshire children should be denied children’s centre universal provision in this postcode lottery, while their counterparts in comparable local authorities will not be.
Chris Bradley, Anne Edwards, Robin Gill, Pat O’Shea, Caroline Roaf, Christine Southall, Linda Squire, Jude Stratton