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Decision to close six Sure Start children's centres called in by Labour and Conservative councillors

By Amy Nickalls

The decision to close six Sure Start centres is being called in by Labour and Conservative councillors.

Dozens of angry mums brought their children to the cabinet meeting at Gun Wharf yesterday afternoon to hear councillors discuss the plans.

During the meeting, members approved revised proposals that mean 13 out of the 19 centres will remain open, four of which would become children and family hubs.

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Siobhan Mclaughlan, with Lucy Tindall, and Skyla McLaughlan, protesting outside Medway Council
Siobhan Mclaughlan, with Lucy Tindall, and Skyla McLaughlan, protesting outside Medway Council

Cllr Andrew Mackness said: “The original proposal has been reviewed and issues were raised. I believe the proposals will allow flexibility to meet future needs and provide a stable landscape in coming years. There was no option for no change.

“We couldn’t allow history to repeat itself and provide a substandard service.”

In light of the decision, the opposition Labour Group decided to call in the decision for further scrutiny.

However, six councillors from the Conservative party who are not on the cabinet members called in the decision first.

Cllr Adam Price, Medway Labour Group spokesman for children and young people, said: “This latest proposal looks to have been worked out on the back of an envelope.

Cllr Andrew Mackness head of children's services
Cllr Andrew Mackness head of children's services

“We still don’t know what services will run where and when. There has been no consultation on this alternative plan. That is why we will call in this decision.

“All that is clear from this muddled decision today is that six vital centres will close and 15 skilled workers will lose their jobs.

“I am disgusted that Cllr Mackness has such little respect for the people of Medway that anyone who gets in the way of his bully boy tactics is dismissed as part of a ‘mob’.”

The decision has attracted a lot of interest from the public, particularly the parents of children using the centre.

Cllr Adam Price, Labour Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People's Services
Cllr Adam Price, Labour Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People's Services

A fun day was held before Tuesday’s meeting to highlight the campaign against the closures, and then parents and children marched to Gun Wharf.

Miss Chatfield, who runs a breastfeeding group at a Rainham children’s centre, said: “For me, the proposals mean having to drive to a centre. After looking at the documents it would be a five-10 minute drive.”

“People are concerned about stay and play sessions. Will you have to book them? Will they be oversubscribed? There’s no detail about what is going to offered, if the same services are going to be continued as they are, just at less centres, or if they are just going to get rid of certain services.

“I don’t know what that means for the staff either.”

The children and family hubs would be located at Gun Lane Children’s Centre and Strood Youth Centre; All Saints in Chatham; Wayfield in Chatham and Woodlands in Gillingham.

The proposed sites for the wellbeing centres are at the following children’s centres: St James’s in Grain, Bligh in Strood, Delce in Rochester, Lordswood, Oaklands in Walderslade, Saxon Way in Gillingham, Hand in Hand, in Twydall, Deanwood in Rainham, and Riverside also in Rainham.

Lexa Chatfield and Jake
Lexa Chatfield and Jake

These would deliver universal health services as well as targeted support based on each community’s needs. They would support children aged five and over, as well as the early years.

The new model could be in place by early 2018.

In May, councillors voted to launch a public consultation on plans to replace all 19 sites across the Towns with four ‘super hubs’ and satellite centres.

Government funding cuts mean the local authority has £1.6 million less to spend on early-years services.

The new plans would cost £1,981,759, just under the council’s new early-years budget of £2m.

The proposals do put 15 jobs at risk, but the previous idea may have caused up to 50 redundancies.

More than 900 people took part in the six-week consultation, which included 42 community and professional meetings.

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