Further pledges to protect Leeds children’s centres despite funding “anxieties”

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Council bosses have issued reassurances that Leeds’s 56 children’s centres are secure - despite admitting ongoing “anxieties” about funding.

The YEP revealed last week that up to £2.5m of the £6.1m funding needed for the city’s vital family support hubs next year was feared to be at “significant risk”.

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Speaking before an inquiry panel which is investigating the future of the centres in the context of a pattern of closures nationally, director of children’s services Nigel Richardson admitted “there are anxieties because of the way money goes, and politics goes”.

But he added the council’s “commitment” to supporting families and young people as early in their lives as possible “has been clear - and children’s centres are part of that”.

He said his department had “many a story of how we reimagine, organise, re-align and work with partners to keep things moving in an effective way in and around children’s centres”.

“Whilst certain pockets of money appear at certain times, and are ringfenced to particular activities at that moment in time, there are still pots of money that appear here and there. And we are in negotiations now about where to put that investment.”

“We are being challenged more and more now to think more creatively about how to keep services like this as effective as we can,” he added.

“I’m not saying it’s easy. But we have got something in Leeds that is a key part of the overall strategic jigsaw. We have faced a number of challenges [but] collectively we are hopeful that we will be able to see our way through that.”

Children’s centres - set up to provide early years support to young families - have been closing across the country recently because of funding cuts.

A report to the council’s scrutiny panel for children’s services said that as part of its Child Friendly city approach it had taken a decision to maintain all 56 centres.

The briefing said that the centres were historically funded through Sure Start grants and more recently from the authority’s funding.

It said that in 2015/16 the budget was £6.3m and that in 2016/17 it will be £6,1m.

However of that total, £2,5m was now said to be “at significant risk”.

That “at risk” amount included £1.6m Clinical Commissioning Group funding and £900,000 from the Dedicated Schools Grant given to councils by the Department for Education.

At its initial inquiry session, chair of the scrutiny panel councillor Sue Bentley stressed the importance of children’s centres and that “if you invest in young people’s services early enough the savings down the line are quite great”.

She said the inquiry was keen to look at “sustainability” of the city’s facilities, pointing out that: “We are one of the few councils that hasn’t closed any of our children’s centres. We have 56 , which is a lot. Other councils have closed all of them. Some have closed a few. I understand that between January and June this year a further 99 were closed [nationally]. So there is continued pressure on this particular area of children’s services.”

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