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BREAKING NEWS: Plans to axe 38 of Norfolk's children's centres approved after marathon debate

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Controversial proposals which will see roughly three-quarters of Norfolk's children's centres closed have been approved.

Members of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee voted in favour of the measures in a meeting at County Hall this afternoon.

Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)
Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)

Under the proposals, just 15 of the county's current 53 children's centres will remain open as part of a new early childhood and family service, which is set to come into effect this autumn.

Sites in South Lynn, Downham, Fakenham and Swaffham are among those which will continue to operate.

But the site in Terrington St Clement, which had been proposed as a district hub for West Norfolk under earlier proposals, is now among those which are set to close.

Following the end of a near five-hour debate, committee chairman Stuart Dark said: "I’m confident the new service will provide a more targeted, consistent and accessible approach, in line with national best practice."

The authority says sessions will also be provided at the county's libraries as well as the remaining children's centres and claims the amount being spent on frontline provision will more than double to around 60 pence in every pound out of the £5.2 million budget for the service.

Although that total is around half of the previous budget, Sara Tough, the council's children's services director, said the proposal was not closing centres in order to “save money”, but rather to provide a new, improved service for the county.

Tim Eyres, the council's head of integrated commissioning, added: “This is a professional service with professional judgements. This is not an either or option. The service will work sometimes in a group context, sometimes in a one to one context and sometimes in a local community venue.

“I am confident that the proposal will have a more effective service with regards to outreach. We recognise the difficulties for families in rural areas.”

But opponents of the measures, including Labour councillors who tabled an amendment to the proposals that was defeated, fear the measures will have a devastating impact on communities and vulnerable families, as well as those who work within the current service.

Liberal Democrat Ed Maxfield said he was concerned at the prospect of fully-funded professional services being replaced by volunteers, as well as the potential for job losses.

Officials said they could not tell how many people would be affected.

And Labour's Emma Corlett questioned the impact on qualified women workers.

She said: “This is a gender equality issue which could potentially remove jobs of skilled women workers with volunteers.

“This consultation still has lots of mights and maybes. What do I say if I go to a café to speak to mothers tomorrow? I am still baffled because we have not been able to articulate it clearly.”

Independent Alexandra Kemp said that, although she was relieved the Nar centre in her Clenchwarton and Lynn South division would remain open, she still had concerns about how services would be delivered..

She said: "The new service will need to be closely monitored to see it delivers its outcomes of increasing achievement, preventing neglect in the 0-5’s and increasing social mobility."

She also questioned whether the new service would be able to help address reports last week which claimed that more than 1,000 children in West Norfolk were not registered with a GP.

Public health director Louise Smith told her: “I am concerned you are coming across people who are not registered with GPs.”

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