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'Complacent' Conservatives criticised amid children's centre confusion

Opposition figures have accused the Conservative administration of ‘complacency’ and demanded clarity on the future of the Royal Borough’s children’s centres following a chaotic virtual council meeting.

On Thursday, an overview and scrutiny panel debated the legality of a report approved by cabinet on Thursday, April 30 proposing the closure of multiple children’s centres in the Royal Borough to facilitate a hub-based model prioritising the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

Taking advice from the borough’s head of law, Elaine Browne, the panel was informed that the decision was not unlawful as a final decision has not been made on which centres will close.

Many members were left confused when they were informed that an additional ‘implementation’ consultation was due to take place, which would inform which centres would close.

Members of the opposition who called the decision into the panel, along with the members of the panel themselves, were not aware that a second consultation would take place, and there was no mention of a implementation consultation in the original report seen by cabinet.

The original 12-week consultation, which took place before lockdown, received 501 responses. About 36 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposals, 32 per cent disagreed, and 32 per cent stated they were either neutral or did not know.

According to officers, the second consultation will begin some time after June and will be presented to cabinet in July or August.

Eventually, the panel decided to send the report back to cabinet, asking for clarifications to be added to avoid further confusion. The amended report will go before cabinet this evening (Thursday).

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Catherine del Campo, (Lib Dem, Furze Platt), one of the councillors who called the decision to the panel, criticised the Conservative administration.

She said: “I just get this sense of complacency from a political group that have never had a great deal of opposition in the past.

“They should have said sorry, this paper was not very good, we are going to withdraw it and do it again, but they have tried to turn it around on us and say we are wrong.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Simon Werner, (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green), another member who called the report to the scrutiny panel, revealed he was pleased with the end result.

He said: “At the end of the day, they actually did what I wanted them to do, which was to change it and put it back to cabinet.

“They have to pretend that they are getting it all right.”

In response to the opposition’s comments, Cllr Stuart Carroll, deputy chairman of the cabinet and lead member for children’s services, said: “There was a lot of smoke and mirrors from the opposition and a lot of distraction.

“At the end of the day the panel voted in favour of the decision, saying there’s no unlawfulness.

“We certainly haven’t been complacent, we heard from the head of law that we have done everything in a lawful way.

He added: “It’s important people listen, not just hear what they want to hear.

“Under specific legislation we are required to do an implementation consultation and that was planned for.

“That’s the law and we respect the law.

“The opposition can always pick up the phone to officers or lead members, can always email, they can tweet.

“They can use morse code or carrier pigeon, whatever method, it's fine with me.

“Let’s communicate, not just do politically charged call ins.”

To view tonight’s cabinet meeting visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZNp1KmF3YnabN6enzlyelQ at 6pm

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