Confusion Surrounds The Planned Closure Of Peterborough’s Children’s Centres

jenga07:39 Monday 25th November 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Are plans to redevelop children’s centres already in a spot of bother? There have been attempts to call in the consultation into the proposed closure of several centres in the city. The City Council plans would see the creation of a network of super centre hubs they’re calling them, using four of the Council’s fifteen centres to offer a wider range of services to a much larger area. .. We’re joined now by Labour councillor Ed Murphy. Ed Morning.
ED MURPHY: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Now you’ve tried to call in this consultation. What are your problems?

ED MURPHY: It has been called in. My colleague was talking to officers about this last week, and they were saying it couldn’t happen. I put the paper in on Thursday evening. On Friday it was called in.
PAUL STAINTON: Which means .. just explain briefly.
ED MURPHY: Normally that means that any decision is then put on hold until the Scrutiny Committee has had a look at the decision. In this case the Cabinet made a decision on Monday to go out and consult on closing down all free access to children’s centres, and getting rid of some of the buildings to try and save £1.2 million. On Wednesday the Prime Minister said he’d given more money to SureStart centres, so it’s all getting a bit confusing. And the Council Leader on Monday afternoon, talking to Rebecca and other people in the corridor, said he wouldn’t be getting rid of the buildings. Now a number of members of the public had already got it in mind to go to a consultation, so I’ve agreed in this one exception, with the officers of the Council, that the current consultation will go ahead, but the decision is being called in, and there’s a special meeting of the Scrutiny Committee on 3rd December. I know that sounds a bit complicated, but the processes are in local authorities, and there are laws that need to be met. I’m not sure whether they have been in this case.
PAUL STAINTON: So people will get to have their say anyway. They’ll get this consultation, and so things could change anyway, couldn’t they?
ED MURPHY: Historically in recent years in Peterborough consultation hasn’t gone too well. People have seen it as a done deal before it’s happened. Once again we’re giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. They got their timetable wrong on this project. They didn’t anticipate a call in which should have stopped it. So we’re going ahead with the current consultation, but we’re also saying do it a bit better. Actually use the children’s centres to consult the people who use them. Make it wider. It is the Christmas period. Make sure you adhere to the law, and have as long a period as possible. For example, if you’re consulting with a voluntary group or organisation or one of the charities that run children’s centres, their boards don’t meet every week. You need to give them a bit of time to respond. So you need a decent consultation. And if that means that the decision is not taken until after the elections in May, then so be it.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re challenging as well, aren’t you, the statistics that they’re using to base all of this on. You’re saying they’ve got their figures wrong.
ED MURPHY: Well if anybody .. you can go online to the Council website and look at the documents. And then you go through to a coloured document that shows areas of deprivation, child deprivation in Peterborough. They’ve got some areas which say zero, and some areas where they say it’s 100%. That is just a nonsense. You can’t have 100% or zero. You’ve got to have a percentage in between. So I think the figures are being used to some extent to cook the books. But the Council Leader, after the meeting on Monday …
PAUL STAINTON: Well there’s no evidence that anybody’s cooking any books.
ED MURPHY: Well, the Council Leader did say, don ‘t worry about the documentation and the annexes and the appendixes, and they’re not going to close. He actually told most of the mothers there that were challenging him just to ignore the documentation that went to it. It wasn’t important.
PAUL STAINTON: What are the options do you think need to be looked at here? Because from the interview that I did, the hubs sound like a decent plan, don’t they? They’re going to offer more support. They’re going to offer more things. They’re going to be bigger. They’re going to be a one-stop shop.
ED MURPHY: No they’re not going to offer more support for children under five. I’m not sure what a police officer can do with a three or four year old, because they say these sort of people are going to be working in the hubs. But on asking what the hubs do, you don’t get told. I’ll give you an example. In Peterborough this summer the Verandah, one of the biggest SureStart centres, was shut, with very little if any consultation. I need to know what outreach work is now being done for those families and children. When I asked at the briefing what the outreach work was, they couldn’t really explain it. The Leader seemed to think people would be going to people’s homes to do outreach work. Quite frankly it’s far more expensive to go to individual homes than it is to go to the current buildings. I think we need to look at the income streams for current buidings as well. Some of them are used in the evenings by other groups, or can be, so income can come in. And the health visitors use those buildings as well, and there’s the health budget for the health visitors to work from as well. You had a young woman from Hampton on a wee while ago. Hampton in North West Cambs is probably the fastest growing district in England. More and more young families. It’s the wrong place to be shutting a children’s centre. And indeed on Monday at the Rural Scrutiny Committee Meeting, councillors of all political parties were speaking out against the closure of Eye and Thorney. And I think they’re very upset in Wittering as well. And the education officer’s explained that children’s centres are one of the reasons why our primary school children are attaining better results. So it doesn’t really fit together. This needs to be reconsidered, and considered properly, not just looking at the cash crisis the Council’s in .
PAUL STAINTON: Ed Murphy from Labour, a Labour councillor in Peterborough, who has managed to get the decision on these new centres called in, although the consultation process will continue.