Hertfordshire councillors agree to axe over 20 family centres across the county
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Over 20 ‘family centres’ are being axed across Hertfordshire.
As well as the 26 closures, county councillors have agreed that charges could be made for some of the family support service’s group activities – with concessionary rates to ensure all families can still access services.
The changes are part of a package of measures drawn-up to reduce the cost of the service by around £750,000.
And they were agreed by a meeting of the council’s children, young people and families cabinet panel on Thursday (November 9).
As a part of the existing network of family centres, there are currently 10 – one in each of the county’s 10 districts – that are staffed Monday to Friday. that will continue to operate as usual.
But the remaining 61 ‘family centre’ premises are only open when they are ‘in use’ – with some said to be used only for office space for staff or storage.
At the meeting councillors heard that of these, the 26 premises earmarked for de-designation were not used regularly for group events, because they were either in wrong place, too small or not accessible to families.
And they were told the move would save an estimated £251,195 a year.
Councillors were also told that alongside plans to charge for group activities – that may include sessions such as rhyme time or stay and play – there were plans for concessionary rates.
Executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Fiona Thomson stressed charging would have to be be ‘proportionate’ and ‘reasonable’.
And pointing to the idea of a concessionary Herts Card, she said it was vital that families who needed the services could still access it.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis said there would be questions over how the council had got itself into the position where so many premises were not being used for service delivery.
He questioned whether the savings associated with premises – including those within schools – would just be transferred to another council budget.
And he said how the concessionary scheme would operate would be ‘critically important’.
Labour Cllr Nigel Bell also raised concerns about plans to charge and said he was still concerned that vulnerable families might be cut off.
And ultimately Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors went on to abstain from the vote on the proposals.
In favour of the changes was Conservative Cllr Paula Hiscocks, who said they were looking at the ‘best use of our resources’.
And Conservative Cllr John Graham suggested the report showed the council was not wasting residents’ money and was making the best of our resources.
Cllr Thomson said from a financial perspective it was vital the council delivered services in the best way possible for residents.
She acknowledged the ‘thousands’ of families that use the council’s family centres on an annual basis and said they were keen for that to continue.
The proposals were subject to three months of public consultation, running between July and October – with staff attending more than 25 community events.
The family centre premises that will be de-designated are:
Barleyfields Family Centre; Tenterfield Family Centre; The Runway Family Centre; Three Parks Family Centre; Fleetville Family Centre; Strawberry Fields Family Centre; Bushey Mill Family Centre; Batford Family Centre; York Road Family Centre; Rickmansworth Family Centre; Chorleywood and Loudwater Family Centre; Great Wood Family Centre; Patk Street and St Stephens Family Centre; ; The Lanes Family Centre; Sunshine Family Centre; Ebury Family Centre; Ash Valley Family Centre; Abbots Langley Family Centre; Bluebell Family Centre; Lime Tree Family Centre; Lamer FieldsFamily Centre; Arlesdene Family Centre; Shenley Family Centre; Galley Hill Family Centre; Buttercups Family Centre; and Birchwood Family Centre.