West Norfolk campaigners protest against children's centres axe plan
Campaigners against plans to close all but one of West Norfolk’s children’s centres have taken their fight to the streets of the borough this week.
Protests were held in Lynn and Downham at the weekend as the public consultation on the controversial measures enters its final few days.
But Norfolk County Council has insisted the plans will provide more opportunities for families to access the services they need.
Under the proposals subject to the consultation, one children’s centre in each of Norfolk’s seven districts would remain open, instead of the 53 which are open now.
But opponents claimed this week the centres which are retained will only be administrative hubs, meaning families will not be able to use them either.
Labour’s Jo Rust yesterday said the proposed outreach service model wasn’t new and did not represent an improvement.
She said: “You can’t take £5 million out of the budget and expect the service to improve. They take people for fools if they expect them to believe that.”
Mrs Rust, who worked to develop the centres when they first opened, said she had been moved by one speaker who told Sunday’s protest in Lynn that he “would not be here” if it was not for the support provided by the children’s centres.
And she maintains the authority should be demanding more money from central government to expand the service, instead of cutting them, in response to a new focus on preventing ill-health outlined by the new health secretary Matt Hancock.
She said: “They’re there to prevent mental health issues, physical health issues, keep us healthy, confident and participatory in our society.
“I don’t want to imagine Norfolk without children’s centres.”
But the county council insists families will still get the help they need if the current proposals are implemented.
A spokesman said: “Local families will be able to drop into any of the proposed bases, including those who are not already receiving support.
“We expect there to be a range of services available to families in the local area, some of which may be delivered at the base, alongside greater use of more local spaces.
“This will create more opportunities for families to access services, rather than having to go to a specific building.
“As part of our proposal to take services out of buildings and into communities to the children and families who need them the most, we are not expecting families to have to drop into a specific base in order to access the support they need.”
The consultation ends on Monday. To take part, visit https://norfolk.citizenspace.com/consultation/childrenscentres-2/