For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to provide some help to the Vale’s Children’s Centres, which are at risk of losing most or all of their county council funding. Some centres are actively working toward self-management, where they will ensure their own long-term viability, and Lib Dems thought of a way Vale could help.
Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:
Children’s Centre Grant Proposal
To create a grant fund available to community groups whose aim is to keep their Children’s Centres viable so they can continue to provide open access children and family services formerly funded by Oxfordshire County Council.
Children’s Centres provide a variety of advice and support for children under 5, their parents and carers. Chirldren’s Center services are available to families from pregnancy right through to when children go into reception class at primary school.
There are a core set of services they must provide:
- Child and family health services, ranging from child health clinics to breastfeeding support
- Some centres offer high quality childcare and early learning – those that don’t can help advise on local childcare options
- Advice on parenting, local childcare options and access to specialist services for families like speech therapy, healthy eating advice or help with managing money
- Help for you to find work, training or volunteering opportunities, using links to local Jobcentre Plus offices and training providers
Some centres may also offer a dentist, dietician or physiotherapist, or help people visit the stop smoking clinic, get faster access to expert advice, support and short-term breaks if a child has learning difficulties or disabilities, talk to Citizens’ Advice, take parenting classes and ‘improve your English if it is not your first language’.
Most of these centres were funded through government initiatives such as Sure Start; over the past few years these grants have been discontinued.
From April 2017, Oxfordshire County Council is reorganising these services by replacing 44 Children’s Centres and 7 Early Intervention Hubs with 8 intervention hubs in the most socially disadvantaged areas of the county. The County Council has made available a £1.2million Transition Fund as one-off start-up help for Community Groups interested in taking on these services. The money is subject to a bidding process and groups are expected to prepare a business plan, demonstrating financial sustainability within a short period.
There are 9 Children’s Centres in the Vale district:
- Elms Road, North Hinksey
- North Abingdon
- Northeast Abingdon
- South Abingdon
- Grove & the Hanneys
Eight of the nine centres have some form of community group that recognises the well-documented benefits of these early help resources, knows how highly valued they are by the families who use them, and is working to retain these services for future generations in their area. (Northeast Abingdon does not have such a group currently.)
The Vale’s Corporate Plan for 2016 – 2020 outlines council’s aims including:
- Supporting community groups and community events through our grant scheme.
- Assisting voluntary and community groups that provide important services to residents, to attract volunteers.
- Working with partners as part of the South and Vale Community Safety Partnership to deliver the annual plan aimed at reducing crime, tackling antisocial behaviour and supporting vulnerable people.
All these objectives are met by the successful early help services that Children’s Centres provide.
The Need for Funding
Examples of the sort of applications this grant would be able to fund are:
- £5,000 capital that is required to be able to register with Companies House. This is necessary if they wish to become a charity which would enable them to apply for Gift Aid and other grant funding
- Revenue costs for staff. Within the Vale’s grants programme, most of the funding available is for capital costs. There are hardly any grants available for revenue costs. The current staff in the Children Centres are highly qualified with specialised skills for working with Early Years children and struggling families; many may well become unemployed. This fund would enable the community groups to offer future employment without losing valued staff to the employment market.
- The government Childcare funding for 2-year olds from low income households doesn’t cover all the costs of providing that childcare because of the expense of qualified staff needed and the required ratio of staff to children. These grants could bridge that gap so that the community groups could still offer this service to low income households and also offer paid childcare places to enable them to become financially sustainable.
- These grants would be administered using the same IT systems and similar processes used for the New Homes Bonus and Community Capital grants.
- There would be a cost associated with staff resource to evaluate the grants and prepare reports for either the Joint Area Committees or Cabinet. These costs could be minimised if only one or two dates were offered as application deadlines to encourage the eight community groups to apply at the same time. The grant department estimate these costs at £3,000 to operate the system which would cover one round only and include the following:
- Approval of a grant policy by the council
- Create a new online grant scheme
- Invite applications from children’s centres
- Advise applicants about how to apply
- Evaluate applications and prepare reports
- Decision process (cabinet or area committee)
- Prepare grant agreements
- Organise grant payments
- Grant monitoring
- A grant pot of £100,000, for the various community groups to apply to for funds would equate to approximately £12,500 each. This fund would operate alongside OCC’s Transition Fund to help these community groups become viable in the short-term and giving them the opportunity to sustain these services in the long-term.
Cllr Judy Roberts
Cllr Emily Smith