Opposition groups withdraw from Suffolk County Council task force over planned cuts to children's centres
Opposition groups have pulled out of a cross-party task force at Suffolk County Council over controversial plans which threaten children’s centres.
A cross-party policy development panel (PDP) was formed by the authority in February to review the way the 38 children’s centres operate.
It emerged this week that among the options on the table were plans to cut up to half of the facilities, which provide free advice, support groups and play sessions.
Now, the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups at the council have pulled out of the PDP, claiming that they cannot support the “underhand” attempts to push through cuts.
In a joint statement, respective group leaders Sarah Adams and Andrew Stringer said: “We have tried to engage with the family services PDP, but it has become increasingly apparent that there is little in the way of policy development. Rather than improving family services, the focus is now solely on closing children’s centres.
“We have tried to input into this process in order to remind panel members of the value of children’s centres, but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
“Although the initial terms of reference for the PDP sought to improve collaborative working across the public sector, at no stage were any documents to support this provided to the panel.
“Both of our groups value the services delivered by children’s centres and believe that these services should be expanded, not contracted.
“A secret meeting, away from the eyes of the public, is not the correct place to be making this sort of decision.
“Attempting to formulate a policy in this way suggests to us that this was a calculated and underhand move to railroad children’s centre cuts through.
“We cannot simply stand by and be complicit in this action. Therefore, we will be withdrawing our representatives from the family services PDP with immediate effect.
“If the Conservatives wish to close children’s centres, it will not be in our name.”
Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks, reaffirmed his commitment to the panel continuing, and stressed that no conclusions had been reached yet.
He said: “The panel is still running its course and looking at many options around future delivery. It has not yet reached any conclusions despite the alleged leaks to the contrary.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter