CHILDREN’S centres in Oxfordshire will stay open but will face a £3m cut in their budget, county council leader Ian Hudspeth has revealed.
Mr Hudspeth said he wanted to keep all 44 centres open – and said the strong public feeling against proposed closures was part of the reason.
He said he and his colleagues had listened to residents, and that views aired at Talking Oxfordshire consultation events had been taken on board, particularly when it came to children’s centres.
He said: “The whole idea of Talking Oxfordshire was going out to talk to residents. We had six roadshows across the county, over 1,000 people attended, we have had 400 responses to that conversation.
“Obviously one of the big concerns was children’s centres.
“We looked at it and we said ‘how can we create a system where actually we can save as many children’s centres (as possible)?’, and actually I don’t envisage any closures at all.
“What I want to do is work with everybody to provide a service and still have a very challenging task of a £3m saving.”
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He denied the council was trying to run services into the ground to give it an excuse to close them.
He said: “It is not about running it into the ground. It is about working with the community, working with the children’s centres.”
The potential closure of children’s centres became the single biggest issue discussed at consultation events across the county.
Parents, children’s centre staff and supporters all joined protests and signed petitions against a policy they feared would see 37 of the centres close for good.
Oxfordshire’s MPs also weighed into the debate, with Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron urging the council to protect services in his constituency.
The council was adamant that no such policy of closure was set in stone, but the idea came to light when staff were briefed about the possibility cuts would be too severe for the centres to survive.
Mr Hudspeth said the saving of £3m proposed in children’s centres’ £31m budgets would not come for several years, and the delay would give finance bosses the chance to crunch the numbers.
He said: “We are setting out financial plans for the next four years up to 2018 and we only plan to make new savings in these areas in the 2017/18 financial year.
“That gives us three years to carefully come up with a plan that seeks efficiencies while at the same time protecting the frontline.
“In essence, children’s centres have a bright future in Oxfordshire.
“We all want them to remain open and at the same time we all know that savings are needed.
“So if everybody can pull in the same direction over the next few years we will get to 2017 with a coherent plan that protects the frontline as well as making a contribution to the large savings target Oxfordshire County Council has to meet.”