Cllr Emily Smith, on children’s centres

Last night Vale considered a Liberal Democrat amendment to the 2017/18 budget. We proposed to set up a modest grants scheme to help the Vale’s Children’s Centres that are working toward self-sufficiency through this challenging first year.  

— The Tory councillors all voted against, even those who sit on town and parish councils who are actually supporting their Children’s Centers. So the amendment failed. 

Here’s what Cllr Emily Smith had to say as she seconded the amendment motion.

Children’s Centres improve children’s life chances and strengthen their resilience. They intervene in problems early on before these problems become too difficult to reverse. Across the Vale, these Centres support parents with employment, housing and parenting. They also give under 5s a safe place to play and socialise, helping to ensure that all children are ready when they start school. 

The centres provide a focal point for local families where they can access health services, information and form supportive relationships with other parents that continue as their children grow. The centres we have are well used and fulfil a number of the aims set out in the Vale’s Corporate Plan – particularly in relation to community safety, supporting community groups and encouraging volunteering.

There is a wealth of evidence that investing in early intervention is the best way to reduce inequality and give all children the chance to fulfil their potential.   

As funding for Children’s Centres is withdrawn, the County Council focuses more on the families in greatest need. This means that the universal provision that so many of our residents rely on is disappearing. This is of great concern to me. 

Post-natal depression, domestic abuse, illness, disability, unemployment, bereavement or social isolation can happen to anyone – not just people living in deprived communities. Children’s Centres provide support with a huge range of issues quickly, before they escalate, reducing demand on Social Care and Health services.   

Also, without services that are open to all families, how will know who needs the most support? We risk leaving families struggling until they reach a crisis point.  

Children’s Centres are highly valued by service users and the communities they are based in. This is evidenced by the fact that so many local people are willing to contribute their time, knowledge and expertise to form community groups to keep these services going. But these groups need our help. 

Creating a grant pot, to top-up the Transition funding available from the County Council, will help ensure these not-for-profit groups are able to afford the set up costs for this initial year. It really could mean the difference between these new community groups succeeding or not.  

We have heard some Councillors suggest that Children’s Centres are not the District Council’s responsibility, but the budget being proposed this evening includes spending on both statutory and discretionary items. The discretionary items (that we don’t have to pay for) include leisure centres, the Beacon coffee shop, the outdoor pool at Abbey Meadow and the CCTV Hub. So should we remove these from the budget, because we don’t have to provide them either.  

We all have residents in our wards who rely on Children’s Centres and our communities are stronger because of the services these centres provide. Our finance officers have confirmed the we can easily afford to help these new community groups, so I ask all Councillors here tonight to support this amendment. Not because we have to, but because we can, and it is the right thing to do.