BY ALEXANDER BALLING: GET WEST LONDON
Hillingdon Council has been struck with more controversy around plans to close two children’s centres after it has been accused of lying about service cuts.
In December, the local authority released a statement saying there would be a council tax freeze in 2017/18 and that there were no planned facility closures and no cuts to services.
That statement was released on December 16, just four days after Hillingdon Council announced plans to close two children’s centres – in Hayes and in Northwood.
Getwestlondon can now reveal that the second children’s centre landlord has opposed the closure of the facility, despite the council blaming them for the planned closures.
But Hillingon Council continues to insist the landlords refused to agree leases, swhich it claimed sparked the plans to close them.
‘That is a big lie’
Marina Schembri, who uses the Cherry Lane Children’s Centre in West Drayton said: “The council is planning to enforce changes to the children’s centres, regardless of what us taxpayers and users of the centres think of it.
“It doesn’t seem like they want to resolve the issue in best interest for both sides but their own.
“The big question is where is the money taken from our children being redirected.”
Alluding to the council’s newsletter, Hillingdon People, she said there was an article saying “no taxes and no cuts to services”, which she said was a “big lie.”
@Hillingdon claiming no service cuts but planning to close children’s centres in the borough which will have serious negative impact. pic.twitter.com/mBEkD5X7Uu
— Leila Melhem (@leilasukkar) January 11, 2017
In March 2016, the leader of Hillingdon Council, Cllr Ray Puddifoot, said that there were no planned service cuts or facility centres in the coming year, despite a reduction in central government funding of £73million.
The Conservative-run council also announced in March a £215,000 “review of children centre delivery model”.
Parents up in arms
The news of the planned closures has caused an uproar among parents who use the facilities, which run a range of services including respite childcare, counselling and breast-feeding courses.
When changes to children’s centres were announced, Hillingdon Council said the closures were caused by the landlords of the centres in Northwood and Hayes because they would not agree new leases.
n December, getwestlondon reported that the landlord of the Hillside Children’s Centre in Northwood, Hillside Primary School, actually opposed the centre’s closure, despite the council blaming them.
Landlords actually oppose closure
Now, the landlord of the second centre in Hayes, Uxbridge College, has confirmed that it too opposes the planned closure of its facility.
A statement from Uxbridge College said: “The principal and chair of governors have sent a jointly signed letter to LBH [London Borough of Hillingdon] objecting to the closure.”
Hillside Children’s Centre in Northwood Way and Uxbridge College Children’s Centre would both be closed from April 2017 if the plans go ahead.
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An online petition has been launched on the campaign website change.org in the hopes of preventing the closures.
So far more than 300 people have signed the petition opposing the council’s proposed changes.
There are currently 18 children’s centres in the borough, run by a number of different providers, but under the new plans the 16 remaining sites would come under council control.
Labour councillor for West Drayton, Cllr Jan Sweeting, said: “What we have with the proposed restructuring is purely a way to cut the budget and one of the ways to do this is to employ fewer staff.
“For many, many years studies from organisations such as the Rowntree Trust have shown that services to support the youngest are critically important to their lives and development and often reduce the need for services in later life as ‘problems’ are caught earlier.
“Reducing the scope and capacity of children’s centres in a borough with a booming child population would seem not to be a sensible way forward as money spent now will reduce more costly services required in later life.”
A public consultation on the plans was launched on December 14 and will run until January 25.
A spokesman for Hillingdon Council said: “Like all local authorities, Hillingdon Council is facing tough financial challenges and we need to make efficiency savings whilst continuing to deliver high-quality services.
“There is currently a public consultation on the proposals for changes to children’s centres.
“The council is proposing to reorganise the way that we deliver services at children’s centres by introducing a new children’s centre programme model, allowing us to make efficiency savings whilst continuing to provide support to residents.
“Prior to the consultation, the landlords for the sites at Uxbridge College and Hillside Primary School declined to agree leases, so the council is also looking at alternative ways in which residents can continue to be supported in those areas.
“The consultation will finish on 25 January.”