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Sandwell Council and consortium at odds in children's centres row
2:38pm Thursday 7th February 2013 in News
CONFUSION reigns over the controversial proposed price hike and the banning of working families from Sandwell children’s centres.
The Health for Living Consortium, which is paid £7.7million of taxpayers money to run the centres, maintain price rises are on hold whereas Sandwell Council have promised they will not go ahead.
Staff and families were outraged when HFL proposed raising fees for playgroup sessions from £21 per term to £63 as well as preventing working families from using services.
After complaints from parents, staff, councillors and concerned residents Sandwell Council’s senior commissioning manager for children's services Peter Forth assured Cradley Heath councillor John Tipper charges would not be increased.
Mr Forth said: “Health for Living have agreed not to implement any proposed increase in charges.
“The authority will be drawing up guidance for all providers about charging for services to ensure a consistent approach across the borough.”
He added: “Children's centres remain as a universal service open to all families in the borough including working families.”
Cradley Heath and Old Hill Councillor John Tipper, who took up the fight for the worried parents, welcomed the U-turn.
He said: “I'm glad that the uncertainty surrounding the centres has now been resolved, and that they'll continue to offer value for money services to all sections of the community.
“I took a personal interest in the issue because I know how highly valued the Sure Start in my ward is. “The work it does is vital in giving our youngsters the best start in life.”
However, HFL, refute the agreement and claim the price charges are still on hold whilst a consultation is carried out.
Richard Beckett, director of operations for Murray Hall Community Trust, 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.”
Councillor Tipper promised to continue to look into the matter and described the consortium’s position “odd.”
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.
The dispute comes less than six months after Sandwell Council handed a multi-million pound contract to run eight centres to the consortium including Cradley Heath, Rowley Springfield, Happy Faces in Rowley Hall and Oldbury.