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Outrage at Sandwell children's centres consortium price hike plans
1:01pm Thursday 24th January 2013 in News
THE consortium paid £7.7 million of taxpayers money to run children’s centres in Sandwell are planning to ban working parents’ children and hike prices for vulnerable families.
Staff and families were outraged when the Health for Living (HFL) Consortium proposed raising fees for playgroup sessions from £21 per term to £63 and preventing working families from using services at eight children’s centres.
The crisis at Cradley Heath, Rowley Springfield, Happy Faces in Rowley Hall and Tividale children’s centres comes less than six months since Sandwell Council handed a multi-million pound contract to run eight centres to the consortium.
Langley Independent Socialist Councillor Mick Davies, who runs two children’s centres in Walsall, slammed the plans.
He said: “To ‘ban’ working families and then raise fees for those most vulnerable families takes some fathoming out.
“The HFL website states that the Consortium receives £7.7 million pounds for running eight centres if my maths are right that averages out at £962,500 per centre.”
He added: “I run two centres with a total of 4,000 families registered with a budget of less than that for two centres.
“We don’t charge for a lot of sessions and a nominal charge for others. I hope that local councillors will support parents and if they need any information I am more than happy to speak with them.“ At a stormy meeting with the Rowley cluster operating director, parents demanded answers as to why prices were being trippled when the consortium receives money from the council.
Richard Beckett, director of operations for Murray Hall Community Trust which manages the centres, said: “The proposed new fee structure at the children’s centres that we manage is currently on-hold whilst further consultation takes place with parents and carers, partner agencies and Sandwell Council.
“All fees paid by parents go directly and solely into providing excellent services for children and young people that meet local need and offer value-for-money for all.”
It is claimed staff have become increasingly unhappy since HFL won the contract after being asked to work for free and coming to the conclusion the consortium “was out of its depth.”
Mr Beckett said: “We ask our staff to be flexible in their roles to ensure that we can deliver the right services as needs change. We would encourage staff to talk to us if they have any concerns.”
The HFL Consortium is made up of the Murray Hall Trust, Accord Housing, Black Country Housing and Sandwell Mind and runs the centres in partnership with national charity Family Action.