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Row over planned cuts to children's centres after consultation closes

A political row has erupted over planned cuts to children’s centres – days after a consultation closed.

Suffolk County Council’s Labour Group says more than half the county’s children’s centres are facing cuts and Bury St Edmunds would be ‘left with just one full-time children’s centre, with the hours of Bury Library Children’s Centre set to be reduced and Hardwick Children’s Centre earmarked for closure’.

However, Cllr Mary Evans, council cabinet member for children’s services, said Hardwick would become a nursery centre and to ‘describe it is closing is incredibly misleading’. She accused the Labour Group of ‘scaremongering to use such evocative language when they know this proposal is all about broadening services, not reducing them’.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, in Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, in Ipswich

A consultation on a review of children’s centres was launched in January and closed on Sunday, March 1, with the council looking at areas including the need for nursery provision, outreach provision and the cost of running the centres.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, Labour expressed fears about the plans and noted that ‘just 16 children’s centres would remain open full-time, a far cry from the 47 operating at the start of 2015’.

Cllr Diane Hind, leader of the Labour Group at West Suffolk Council, said: “Our children’s centres remain a lifeline to so many families. I’m really fearful about the damage these cuts could have.”

Cllr Jack Abbott
Cllr Jack Abbott

Bury St Edmunds Town Cllr Katie Parker said she found the children’s centres ‘invaluable’ as a single mum and ‘they were and still are a hub for the community’.

Cllr Jack Abbott, Labour’s county spokesman for education and children’s services, branded the consultation a ‘sham’.

In response, Cllr Evans said: “I do find it very disappointing, and somewhat predictable, that the Labour Group has not taken any opportunity to contribute with constructive views during our seven-week public consultation on improving this service.”

Cllr Abbott said they submitted a consultation response which could be viewed at suffolklabourgroup.org

Cllr Mary Evans
Cllr Mary Evans

Cllr Evans added they ‘received an excellent response from families who use every children’s centre’.

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