Parents have been left in the dark over the future of 20 city Sure Start centres after a new raft of council proposals were revealed.
A fourth option has been floated by the authority which would see Community Family Hubs rolled out across the city - but only with the help of an extra £385,000 investment to come from either the council or an unknown ‘partner’.
And families still do not know if their local Sure Start centre will remain open in its current location.
Newcastle City Council’s Cabinet member for Children’s Services, Councillor Joanne Kingsland, said: “Through the consultation people have told us overwhelmingly that the cuts to Family Services are unpalatable. I agree - but cuts being imposed on us have pushed us to the edge of a fiscal cliff and we have to consider every aspect of the work the council does.
“I am pleased that the response to consultation does recognise the importance of ensuring that support to the most disadvantaged families is maintained.”
Newcastle City Council consulted with families throughout September over proposed cuts to Sure Start and family services as part of budget cuts.
But after initially putting forward three models for the future of the services in the city, the final report saw a fourth option outlined which recommended the creation of Community Family Hubs which incorporate Sure Start Children’s centres and involve intensive support to families.
The report also said the council would seek to find £385,000 from elsewhere in the budget, or through discussion with partners, to ensure that targeted support services for families with priority and specialist needs.
Officials said the fourth option was devised after listening to parents during the consultation process.
Mum-of-two Claire Straughan, 38, from West Denton who uses Denton Sure Start centre, said: “I don’t want any cuts to Sure Start but to find extra money from somewhere else seems positive. A community hub has definitely been mentioned in the consultation phase so I’m familiar with that idea, but we don’t know if it would be similar to what we have now. I still don’t know if Denton Sure Start will close and everything still feels up in the air.”
The Family Services Review will be considered by Cabinet on October 22 and if it is accepted there will be a further and more detailed consultation on the particulars and the future of the 20 Sure Start centres in the city.
Councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were informed of the plans at a special meeting held yesterday and while the new model was welcomed by some, others said it was a shame it had not been tabled in the initial consultation phase in September.
Liberal Democrat Coun Wendy Taylor, who represents Dene ward, said the announcement was ‘good news’.
But Labour Coun David Denholm, who represents Walkergate, said: “I am more unclear now.”
Questions were also asked about where the extra funding would come from and concerns were raised that members of the committee had not been given the paperwork before the meeting so they could not properly analyse the new model.
Labour Coun Ben Riley, who represents Blakelaw, said: “I am pleased there’s an option four because it sounds good to me but like David I think it is a shame it was not on the table from the beginning because it would be nice to have more time to look at it.”
The new hubs proposed would be available to the maximum possible number of children whilst focusing on those 30% of communities with the highest level of deprivation. This idea incorporates part of the initial model three.
If Cabinet agrees the proposal, detailed planning of how the Community Hubs and other services will be configured, and where they will be located, will get underway.
There will be a further phase of consultation on these plans before the council agrees its final budget position in March 2015.