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Call for ‘shameful’ consultation over potential closure of Norfolk’s children’s centres to be suspended

Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture Archant.

Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture Archant.

Archant

The consultation over the potential closure of all but seven of Norfolk’s children’s centres is “shameful” and should be suspended, it has been claimed.

And opposition councillors have requested a special meeting of the children’s services committee over the issue.

Forty-six of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres could be closed after council bosses revealed proposals for a review of the service.

Seven of the existing children’s centres would remain as bases in each district of the county.

Council bosses say it will bring services out of buildings and into the community.

But, with the funding to pay for those services being cut from £10m to £5m, critics are not convinced by the Conservative-run council’s claims that it will mean more support can be provided to children and families most in need and reach people who currently do not use services.

Consultation over the proposals is under way and will run until November 9.

And, at a meeting of County Hall’s policy and resources committee today, Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council sought permission to table a motion to suspend the consultation.

Raising it under local member issues, Mr Roper said: “My proposal is that the consultation is suspended and that it is rewritten to provide a more balanced and more accurate reflection of the council’s proposals.

“This consultation is shameful. It’s not a consultation.”

Council leader Andrew Proctor, as chairman of the policy and resources committee, had the say over whether motions could be tabled.

He said he was not prepared to accept Mr Roper’s motion, so the committee did not debate it.

The council says schools, village halls, libraries and other buildings would be used to provide the services people currently get at children’s centres.

But a cross-party call has been made for a special meeting of the children’s services committee. Labour and the Lib Dems want have requested the meeting because consultation started, without the committee’s knowledge or agreement.

Labour’s Mike Smith-Clare and Lib Dem Dr Edward Maxfield, said: “We remain deeply concerned that the proposals being consulted on bear little, if no resemblance to the consultation which took place during the budget considerations.

“We therefore believe that it is in the interests of Norfolk’s children and young people that a special meeting be convened in order to resolve these and other constitutional concerns.”

The council stresses, despite the budget specifically to run children’s centres will be halved, it is just one element of a wider programme of transforming children’s services which has seen millions of pounds of investment.

The impact on the staff who work in the children’s centres is not yet clear, but officers gave a pledge that front-line services would be protected.

The consultation is at www.norfolk.gov.uk/childrenscentres

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