Managers to be axed to save Dudley borough children's centres

BELEAGUERED children's centre managers are to lose their jobs as cash-starved Dudley Council is forced to cut £1.5 million from the department.

After a huge public outcry halted plans to close seven of the borough's 20 centres, including Tenterfileds in Halesowen and Hob Green which serves Cradley, the council is now planning a major restructuring with managers in the firing line.

Children's services cabinet member Councillor Tim Crumpton said the public had voted for job losses in preference to centre closures during the public consultation.

He said: "The public response was that they didn't want to lose managers, but given the choice between delivering the service in clusters and keeping them open, the answer we got back was that they would understand if we reduced management."

It is not yet known how many managers will be axed, but the centres will be run in five clusters, headed by a manager each.

The Halesowen cluster will be made up of Tenterfields, Olive Hill, Little Hands and the Butterfly Sure Start children's centres, while Hob Green will fall into the Stourbridge cluster.

Opening hours are also likely to be cut, but each centre will have its daily usage assessed before a decision is made and the council hopes other organisations, including mental health and the voluntary sector will be able to share facilities to keep costs down.

Staff will work across each cluster to provide services to meet local need, the use of volunteers in some services areas will be explored and a charging policy for some services will be considered.

Cllr Crumpton told Monday's overview and scrutiny board, which approved the draft plan, that more than 1,500 residents had responded during the consultation period.

Pauline Sharratt, interim director of children's services said : "We have listened closely to parents and taken into account what people said about us needing to work closely with our partners to further develop the children's centres."

The board's vice chairman, Councillor Dave Tyler, said he was "heartened" to see a commitment to improve the service.

He added: "If our children's centres are to be successful, all partners have to have an equal say in what goes on. "

The centres provide services for disadvantaged families with under fives, with the aim of improving the life chances for the children. The closure plans, announced last November, caused outrage among parents who rely on the services and from politicians who highlighted their valuable work in changing lives.

The closures would have saved £2.3 million by 2016 and savings of £1.5 million from the introduction of the cluster model still leaves children's services with almost £1 million of further savings to find.

Overall, Dudley Council, is looking to slash spending by £26 million in the wake of cuts in Government funding as part of the Coalition's austerity measures

The council’s cabinet is expected to ratify the plans on Wednesday February 12.

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