Brent Council children’s chief says restructure won’t harm services

Denise Burke says Brent is ‘bucking the trend’ by not closing children’s centre, despite Government cuts

Brent Council’s children’s services chief has spoken out to quash fears that an imminent restructuring of early years services will hamper provision.

Denise Burke, early years and childcare manager, said the authority is ‘bucking the trend’ in not closing any children’s centres despite large government cuts, and assured parents they will see ‘very little difference’ in the services they get.

Her comments come after parents expressed fears that the council’s plans to restructure children’s centres and reduce the amount of centrally commissioned nutritional and work advice, and speech and language therapy, will disrupt care.

Mrs Burke told the Times: “We really want to reassure that we are keeping all our centres open and there will be little difference in front line services, certainly for the majority of parents.

“Brent really is bucking the trend of children’s centre closures. We are retaining all our 17 centres, of which 14 are going to continue to provide a full delivery service.”

Under the new strategy, approved by the Labour-run Council last week, Brent has dropped plans to open three new children’s centres, and will move to a ‘locality working’ model which will see employees split into one of seven teams which work across five localities, and their numbers halved.

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Parents will travel to different centres, always within pram pushing distance, where staff will put on sessions tailored to the particular needs of community,

Three children’s centres, Wykeham, Preston Park and Mount Stewart will continue to offer five half-day sessions, but overall control of them will be passed over to the schools where they are based.

This, the council argues, will free the council from the burdensome management costs, without affecting frontline services.

While the changes signify a major shift in the organisation of early year’s provision, Brent is one of the few London boroughs not planning to close any existing centres – neighbouring Barnet is closing eight of its 21 children’s centres. And Mrs Burke insists that for most parents, the services they receive and the key staff they have contact with will remain the same.

Responding to concerns that by cutting so many agency staff the council risked disrupting the bonds parents and their children have built up with staff, Mrs Burke said: “We are going to restructure, but we are pretty confident we aren’t going to get rid of any of our permanent staff.

“We don’t have many long term agency staff so it is unlikely parents have built up a bond with agency staff because they are coming and going.”

The shake up of early year’s provision has been sparked by changes in Government funding. The council’s early intervention grant which Brent Council says has been chopped by �2million to �8m this year.

“We need to make some efficiency savings and reduce costs,” explains Mrs Burke, “but we want to do that without affecting front line services too much.”

Brent Council estimates it wills save �2.25m under the new strategy.