12:00PM, Friday 07 June 2019
High Court legal action is being taken against Bucks County Council’s plans to close more than half its children’s centres.
The council’s cabinet agreed unanimously in March to close 19 out of the 35 centres it operates across the county, to enable it to focus on offering wider services to more children and young people.
Called the ‘Family Support Service’, the new programme is due to be implemented on September 2 to replace the current ‘Early Help’ scheme, which is predominantly aimed at very young children.
However, the proposal is being contested on Thursday, June 13, on the grounds that it is illegal.
Lawyers representing a 32-year-old woman, who attended one of the centres and has remained anony-mous, will launch a judicial review, claiming it is in breach of the 2010 Equality Act and 2006 Childcare Act.
A public consultation run by the council on the new plans ended in December.
James Betts, from Irwin Mitchell, the law firm representing the claimant, said: “Children’s centres provide vital support to families in a range of situations.
“However, the wider proposals to completely reshape services across the county will make it much harder for families with young children in the area to get the support they need.
“They and many other families have found the current situation hugely distressing and we believe the council should have done more when considering this issue.”
Locally, the children’s centres in Marlow and Burnham will remain open but the one serving Wooburn Green and Bourne End has not made the cut.
In the council’s family centre location report, the council describes Wooburn Green and Bourne End as a ‘lower level of composite early help need in [the] surrounding area in comparison to sites proposed for retention’.
Warren Whyte, cabinet member for children’s services at the council, said: “We are aware of legal proceedings relating to our plans to make changes to children’s centre services in Buckinghamshire.
“These proceedings focus on those early help services offered at the centres.
“We must ensure our early help offer supports the right families at the right time so that their needs do not escalate and they are given the support they require when they need it.
“It is vital that our new Family Support Service launches on September 2, as planned. Any delay to this will impede our ability to help the very people who need it most, and will have a serious financial impact on the service.
“The changes to services form part of a Partnership Early Help Strategy created after an extensive 10-week public consultation.
“Two thirds of respondents said we should proceed with this new strategy, which puts the needs of local children and families at its heart.
“Our strategy is not about buildings, it is about people.
“While 16 existing children’s centres will expand their offer as new family centres, plans are being finalised to enable other existing children’s centre sites to be used by families in their community.
“We are unable to comment further on the legal proceedings at this time.”
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