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Late bid to use business rate cash to protect Norfolk children's centres facing closure

One-year-old Esca Bootman at a protest at County Hall against the closure of the children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

One-year-old Esca Bootman at a protest at County Hall against the closure of the children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Eleventh hour efforts are to be made to amend Norfolk County Council's budget, in the hope it could head off the closure of at least some of the children's centres facing the axe.

Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services. Pic: Liberal Democrats.Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services. Pic: Liberal Democrats.

Thirty-eight of the county’s 53 children’s centres are to close by October after the council voted for a shake-up to create a new Early Childhood and Family Service.

The council had previously agreed to cut the budget for commissioning those centres from £10.2m to £5.2m.

Officers say a new service would better target families most in need, with workers going to their homes, libraries, village halls and other community facilities.

Fifteen centres would remain open, primarily to serve as bases for the outreach work.

But the move came in for criticism from families and from the Conservative-controlled council’s political opponents.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead member on children's services. Pic: Labour Party.Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead member on children's services. Pic: Labour Party.

Both Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition groups at County Hall will table amendments to the Conservative budget, which is due to be decicded on Monday.

Opposition leaders say it would make money available, which could potentially mean more centres could be retained.

The Lib Dems want to use £1m to increase funding for support for families. Ed Maxfield, the party’s spokesman on children’s services, said some of that money could give the organisation or organisations which take on contracts the flexibility to keep some of the centres open.

He said: “The huge cut in funding to support new families was dressed up as a ‘re-design’ of the service.

“But the end result is that nearly three quarters of the county’s children’s centres will close and a million pounds will be lost from front-line funding.”

The money would be drawn from cash raised through the council being allowed to keep more of business rates raised in Norfolk.

And Labour says its children’s centre budget amendment, to provide £1.3m in 2019/20 and £3m in 2020/21, would also create scope to protect more centres and ensure enough staff for promised outreach services, particularly in rural areas.

That money would come from business rates and cash from a transformation budget pot.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead on children’s services, said: “It is crucial we guarantee the role and value of lifeline hubs.”

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