Norfolk children's centres: Council backs plans to close 38 sites

Protesters outside County Hall Image copyright Emma Hampton
Image caption Campaigners gathered outside Tuesday's meeting at County Hall to protest at the proposed closures

A controversial proposal to close most of the children's centres in Norfolk has been rubber-stamped after a six-hour meeting.

Norfolk County Council earmarked 38 out of 53 centres for closure to save £5m from its children's centre budget.

Protesters called on those arriving at Tuesday's meeting to reject proposals, but the children's services committee voted to go-ahead with the closures.

A new "targeted" early childhood and family service will be set up instead.

The Conservative-run authority said it wanted to invest in the outreach service to help the most vulnerable families in their own homes.

Image caption The closure plans have led to a string of protests in the months leading up to Tuesday's decision

Committee chairman Stuart Dark said: "I'm confident the new service will provide a more targeted, consistent and accessible approach, in line with national best practice."

Sara Tough, director of Norfolk County Council's children's services, said: "It's not a proposal to reduce children's service delivery, but it's about working differently."

Plans were announced in September to close 46 centres but the council made a U-turn last week, reducing the number of proposed closures to 38.

Labour councillor Mike Smith-Clare said he was "distraught" over the decision.

"For some of those most marginalised individuals… children's centres have been a lifeline, not just to them but their children and for what should be future generations," he said.

"We are hurtling towards an abyss and leading towards a stage where we are relying on limited resources, limited amounts of money and limited support."

Image caption Jon Watson uses a centre in Norwich with his sons Callum, 4, and Aiden, 2

Parent and campaigner Jon Watson, who uses the Bowthorpe centre in Norwich, said: "I'm gutted not just for my children, but for all the staff because I have seen the fantastic work they do."

The centres run services including free-parenting courses and health checks and are used by about 23,000 under-fives each year.

The approved changes are due to take effect in October.

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