Published: November 13, 2013
Future of Burnham-On-Sea's Octopus Children's Centre in jeopardy

The future of Burnham-On-Sea's Octopus Children's Centre has been thrown into jeopardy this week after Somerset County Council unveiled a major cost-cutting initiative.

The controversial restructuring plans will see the merger of many of Somerset's existing children's centres with the aim of reducing the overall number from 41 to 23.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council told Burnham-On-Sea.com: "Under the restructure, Highbridge will remain as a designated Children’s Centre. Burnham will be de-designated, which means it will no longer formally be a children's centre."

"However, children’s centre services will still be provided in Burnham, possibly in the same building but if not in another venue in the town."

Burnham's County Councillor, Peter Burridge-Clayton, this week reassured users of the Octopus Centre that they will be catered for.

"It is important to recognise this is about services, not buildings," he told Burnham-On-Sea.com. "It is the County Council's priority to provide front-line support where it is most needed, and in places where it can be easily accessed - whether that is a children's centre, a library, a school hall or a community centre."

"In the case of the Octopus Centre, it covers a reach area of 24 square miles. As of June 2013 there were 782 children aged 0-4 living in the reach. None of those children live in the 30% most deprived areas."

"I have been advised that discussions are ongoing with regard to Burnham Infant School having more input into the running of the centre. I am confident that Somerset County Council will maintain quality services, and there will be no adverse impacts on local families."

Cllr Burridge-Clayton, right, added: "I have also been made aware that under the new structure, parents will also be able to access any centre in Somerset regardless of where they live or work, rather than often being expected to access a centre in their home catchment area."

But the proposals have been criticised by some. Lib Dem Helen Groves said the cutbacks are a "disgrace", adding: "The County Council is closing vital services which will be greatly missed by many users."

County Council Chief Frances Nicholson is expected to approve the cuts at a meeting on November 18th.

She said: "I believe the restructure is what the service needs to help the most vulnerable children and their families in the long-term. This is about services, not buildings."

"Our priority has to be to provide front-line support where it is most needed, in places where it can be easily accessed - whether that is a children’s centre, a library, a school hall or a community centre."

"We were spending too much money on running services and not enough on actually delivering them. We are putting that right and doubling our spend on the front-line."

More than 1,100 people took part in a consultation on the centres' future earlier this year.

There are currently 41 registered children’s centres in Somerset, each with its own management, administration and Ofsted requirements.

Under the restructure, services would continue to be delivered from 151 locations but the number of designated children’s centres would be reduced to 23. Some centres would have reduced opening hours, depending on demand and some would merge.

Parents will be able to access any centre in Somerset regardless of where they live or work, rather than often being expected to access a centre in their home catchment area.

Cllr Nicholson added: "I understand this has been a period of great uncertainty, for staff, partners and most importantly families who use our services and I apologise for that. But at the moment, we have some centres and services that are under-used and others not performing as well as they should be, and that must be addressed."

The council has produced a draft decision paper - available by clicking here - which will be discussed at a meeting of the County Counci's scrutiny committee this Friday (November 15th) in the Luttrell Room at County Hall at 9.30am.

Pictured: From top - Burnham's Octopus Centre, Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton and Highbridge Children's Centre



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