Croydon Council’s attempt to dig its way out of the financial mess it created sees the repeated removal of public services across Croydon, particularly in the south of the Borough. We have already seen the continued closure of Purley Pool, our libraries are to be closed for an additional day per week and some of our recycling centres are threatened with closure, with Purley Oaks most at risk.
Without warning, Croydon Council has commenced a consultation on its proposals for Croydon’s Best Start Children Centres. The sole aim is to reduce spending in an attempt to claw back some of the £1.5Bn debt built up by the Labour Council. This consultation seeks to slash the Children’s Centre budget by 46% by reducing services, leaving most of the remaining provision in the north of the Borough and what can only be described as a void in services in Shirley and the south of the Borough.
What is the current provision?
At the moment we have 9 Children’s Centres which are relatively well spread across the Borough, 3 Early Help Hubs and 10 Service Access Points which are predominantly in the centre and north of the Borough, although there is a service access point in Sanderstead which prevents a total void in services in the area.
What is the proposal?
The Council aims to reduce the cost of Best Start from £2.162million to £1.162million by reducing the number of sites from 22 to just 9 venues. The Borough has been split into 3 areas (North, Central, and South) each of which will have one hub centre and a further 2 spoke centres. Amongst the closures are Shirley and Purley Oaks Children Centres and the access point in Sanderstead.
How has the Council decided on this model?
The Consultation pack states that the proposed model has been designed after considering geography, accessibility, transport links and the location of Croydon’s most deprived areas. However, it is clear that the proposals don’t meet these criteria, especially in relation to the proposed closures of Shirley and Purley Oaks Children’s Centres.
Parents and carers on Shirley’s Shrublands estate, shown in the Council’s consultation papers as one of the most deprived areas in the Borough, will have a walk of over an hour or have to take several buses over a similar amount of time to reach their 2 nearest centres.
The closure of Purley Oaks Children Centre and the Sanderstead action point leaves parents in Riddlesdown or Hamsey Green with similar walks of far in excess of an hour – and those walk times don’t factor in pushing a pram up and down hills or walking with a toddler. The reality is that parents in challenging circumstances won’t be able to access the services they need which is a particular concern when Purley Oaks Children’s Centre offers a range of specialist services including help with speech and language, sessions for under 3 year olds with additional needs and a support group for mothers with substance abuse issues.
The consultation pack also states that the Council has “carried out an equality impact assessment, which will be reviewed and updated during and after the consultation”. The assessment is not available to view at this point but it is not possible for the reduction in provision to meet the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010 given that it will disproportionately impact residents who hold protected characteristics e.g. young children (age), those with additional needs (disability), new and expectant mothers (pregnancy and maternity) and women (sex).
With no financial information available on how reducing the provision saves £1million and the Council's own criteria not being met, it seems that the proposals can only be a negative for local parents, carers and children.
Cllr Helen Redfern, Shadow Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning says,
“Irrespective of where they live, parents share many of the same concerns, can experience a lack of confidence in their parenting ability, develop poor mental health both ante- and post-natally, and can worry about their child’s development. Trust is key in helping parents to open up about their concerns and to be willing to hear from the professionals to be found in Children’s Centres – but trust comes over time in a safe setting such as a Children’s Centre. These services also provide an opportunity for parents experiencing abuse to reach out for help. I am concerned that Shirley and the southern half of the Borough, taking in South Croydon, Purley Oaks, Riddlesdown and Sanderstead will be without any provision at all with the nearest centres often over an hour’s pram-push away. We need to make accessing help easier rather than more difficult for new parents.
It is important that Croydon Council understands how residents feel about the proposals to severely reduce the service offered to expectant and new parents. If your local centre is likely to close or you live somewhere with minimal provision, do tell the Council. If you have benefitted from the services previously and can see that this will not be the case for new parents in your area, do let the Council know. It is the parents, carers and children who use these centres that really understand their benefit.”
The consultation survey can be found here: https://getinvolved.croydon.gov.uk/project/692