The future of children's centres in Warwickshire has been sealed after councillors agreed to close 25 centres across the county to save £1.12 million.
Warwickshire County Council's Cabinet agreed on the proposals to turn 14 of the 39 children's centres in the county into 'Children and Family Centres' at a meeting on Thursday November 9.
16 sites will no longer be run by the council but will provide 'outreach services' run by others such as volunteers. It is unclear exactly what each outreach site will provide in services. The rest will close with no outreach service planned.
The changes will come into force in April 2018, the start of the new financial year.
Portfolio holder for children's services Cllr Jeff Morgan (Con, Bulkington and Whitestone) said the 39 current centres were 'unsustainable', and claimed the most vulnerable people do not use children's centres often.
He said: "What we're trying to do here is improve and target our service to those people who really do need our help the most.
"The most vulnerable don't always come to children centres. We know - we've done the research.
"A lot of the most hard-to-reach families do not want to come to children's centres because of the perceived stigma. We are not doing a good job for those who need us most at the moment."
The leader of the council, Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Con, Stour and the Vale) said she accepted the council had a budget to achieve, but emphasised the need to prioritise people over buildings.
She said: "This has not been a quick journey. We've been talking about children's centres for some time.
"What we're here for is to improve these services, not make them worse.
"At the heart of that we have to have people. It's people that safeguard children, not buildings."
Reading a statement on behalf of county councillor and Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western (Lab, Leamington Willes), who was unable to attend, Cllr Alan Webb (Lab, Benn) said the council should use its reserves to fund the centres for longer.
But the statement was rebuffed by Cllr Seccombe, who said this amounted to 'kicking the can down the road' and warned their would be a 'cliff edge' for children's centres if nothing was done now.
And Cllr Peter Butlin (Con, Admirals and Cawston) said using reserves was an 'alarm bell' indicating something had gone seriously wrong with the council's finances. He added: "You do not set budgets by using money in reserves."
After the meeting, Cllr Western said he was 'fuming' with the decision and ultimately blamed the government for the closures due to it finding £1.6 billion to give to the DUP after the general election in June, but not enough to fund local authorities properly.
He added: "We do not need to be doing this. Reserves are for essential, critical issues, and this is one such issue."
When it was pointed out that Conservative and Labour councillors agreed to the budget in February that resulted in the cuts to children's centres, Cllr Western responded: "We were faced with a choice. We did a deal where there would not be closures in this financial year.
"We would secure them for the first year and consider cuts in years two and three. Then the elections happened.
"We were expected and determined to win those elections and increase revenue streams. If we had won either this would not get to happen.
The decision could go back to full council if at least five councillors make representations to the chairman of the council, currently Cllr Clive Rickhards (Lib Dem, Studley), and he accepts their request.
Now the proposals have been granted, centres in Lillington, Westgate, and Kingsway will become children and family centres.
Originally, Sydenham was going to be kept instead of Kingsway, but the council said the consultation found Kingsway’s centre was in a greater area of need.
An ‘outreach model’ has been proposed for centres due to close in Whitnash, Warwick, Kenilworth Bertie Road and Wellesbourne.
Kenilworth St John’s and Southam will also have outreach services, but the centres would be kept for one year in a ‘transition period’.
The council said ‘significant representations’ made from people in Kenilworth meant they had to keep one centre open for longer while it worked out how it could deliver a good service through outreach.
Originally, both St John’s and Bertie Road’s centres in Kenilworth were going to be closed. The nearest centre to the town would have been in Lillington.
Centres retained: Atherstone, Camp Hill, Stockingford, Riversley Park Clinic, St. Michael’s, Long Lawford, Claremont, Boughton Leigh, Lillington Kingsway, Westgate, Alcester, Stratford, Lighthorne Heath.
Closed with outreach model after one year transition: Kenilworth St John's, Southam, Badger Valley.
Closed with outreach model with no transition: Coleshill, Kingsbury, Polesworth, Abbey, Ladybrook, Rainbows, Bulkington, Hillmorton, Wolston, Whitnash, Warwick, Kenilworth Bertie Road, Wellesbourne.
Closed with no outreach planned: Mancetter, Park Lane, Newbold Riverside, Oakfield, Dunchurch, Cawston, Sydenham, Newburgh, Clopton, Studley and Riversley ((Our Lady of the Angels School site).