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Protest fails as bid to stall children’s centre closure consultation is voted down

PUBLISHED: 12:28 15 October 2018 | UPDATED: 18:00 15 October 2018

A protest at County Hall over the potential closure of children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A protest at County Hall over the potential closure of children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Consultation over proposals which would see 46 of 53 children’s centres closed is to continue, after calls to suspend it were rejected.

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

The public is being asked for views over Norfolk County Council’s proposals to shut all but seven children’s centres, used by 23,000 families over the past year, as part of a review of the service.

The council has agreed to halve the budget from £10m to £5m, as contracts for the 12 current providers of the services come to an end next year.

The council says services can be provided in the community and more of the families most in need can be reached.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour had called for the council to agree to suspend the consultation at a full council meeting today, amid claims it had not gone through the correct processes and was “impenetrable” to read.

But the motion, lodged by the Lib Dems and amended by Labour, was defeated, with Conservatives voting against it.

Lib Dem Edward Maxfield, who moved the motion to suspend consultation, said the proposals were motivated by saving £5m, rather than what was best for families.

And his group leader Dan Roper said the consultation was “shameful”, with the council not having the “backbone” to say in the consultation that centres could close.

Lib Dem Tim East said: “As a retired headteacher, children’s centres are an invaluable resource in the development of early years children and I abhor any proposal to close 46 of the 53 currently available.”

Labour’s Mike Smith-Clare said the proposed cuts were an “abject disgrace”.

He said they were “cruel and ill-thought out” and would “be felt by a generation”.

Stuart Dark, Conservative chairman of the children’s services committee, said the consultation had been through “checks and balances” and the opposition was wrong to say it had not been through the proper process.

He said: “I believe it’s absolutely wrong to stop a well-trailed, legal consultation mid flow on such a spurious motion, just because the opposition doesn’t like what we are going to consult on.”

And council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Surely the best thing we should be thinking about is how we invest our money in services, not buildings.”

The motion was lost by 43 votes to 23, with one abstention.

Parents of children who use the centres had joined a Labour-organised lobby outside County Hall ahead of the meeting.

The consultation runs until November 12.

The council is holding a number of drop-in events about their proposals, as follows:

Dereham Library, Dereham – Monday, October 15, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

The Pavilion, Old Catton – Tuesday,October 16, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

Merchant’s Place, Cromer – Tuesday, October 23, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

Gaywood Library, King’s Lynn – Thursday, October 25, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

Wymondham Library, Wymondham – Monday, October 29, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

Great Yarmouth Borough Central Library, Great Yarmouth, Wednesday, November 7, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, 6pm to 8pm.

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