Thursday 29 April saw the Council resume some measure of ‘business as normal’. The Conservative administration brought forward their proposals to slash £600,000 of services in the name of ‘transforming’ Children’s Centre, Youth services and Family Resilience teams into the controversial Family Hub model.
The meeting was a virtual one with a live YouTube feed. Many more Councillors than is usual ‘attended’ and 200 residents listened in.
Council leader Cllr. Johnson reserved the first 49 minutes and the last 5 for his administration’s views only. That left 53 minutes for debate and very little of this time was given over to the Opposition.
However, we made particularly good use of our measly ration.
Cllr. Catherine del Campo (Furze Platt) undermined the claim that the changes were evidence-based. She laid bare the pick ‘n’ mix nature of the plan. She showed us how the Tories are borrowing helpful bits from an All-Party Parliamentary group’s (APPG) findings but ignoring far more that contradicts their bogus ‘transformation’, which is nothing more than a justification for cuts.
Her analysis also revealed that the plan’s near abandonment of universal service is quite the opposite of what the APPG intended. She expressed the very real concern that excessive targeting of resources will stigmatise the remaining centres as places only for ‘failing families’ when they are meant to be an oasis for us all.
Pinkneys Green youth and community centre
Cllr. Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) begged the administration not to forget the residents in their dash for budget cuts. He spoke of his first-hand experience at the Pinkneys Green centre, learning vital family raising skills, meeting fellow residents and their young families, and sharing the joy and the challenge of parenthood. He stressed that the centre then had been open to all but that the cynical de-funding of the last thirteen years had robbed his community of those opportunities he had been fortunate enough to enjoy.
He reminded us all that targeting will only deliver services to those identified as being in need. He asked where those of us who are struggling to just about manage are expected to go for the very little we ask for but, from time to time, so desperately need.
Cllr. John Baldwin (Belmont) challenged the lawfulness of the public consultation. He pointed out that the report, though it referred to supporting guidance and legislation, did so very selectively. He outlined the full scope of the Gunning Principles and demonstrated that even the one paragraph quoted in the report had not been complied with. Any proposals are meant to be brought to consultation whilst they are at a “formative stage” yet the Conservatives have been discussing them for nearly four years.
He also demonstrated that a very general consultation in which 64% of respondents did not support the changes could not meet the requirements of the Sure Start statutory guidance. He reminded the cabinet that they already face a legal challenge on bungled Council Tax consultations.
Cllr. Amy Tisi (Clewer East) asked for some clarity on redundancies. The report states that just over 21 full-time posts will become redundant, but masks which posts they will be. Her concern is that they will fall heavily upon Health Visitor posts and, as they are the roles that deliver the bulk of the crucial early intervention services, the effect of them would be devastating.
The leader of the council dismissively referred to “false scaremongering”. However, the answer did not make clear where the axes will fall. A lot of these services are delivered by people who work less than a full week. However, the cuts will force each person to assume more duties and be trained in a wider range of skills. This doesn’t suit everyone, and an undisclosed number of part-time Health Visitors have already left.
They will be replaced by all-rounders, working longer hours and, as these services are contracted out, nobody within the Royal Borough will have a say as to their skill set or suitability.
Challenged on every front, by well-informed, engaged Liberal Democrat councillors, the Conservatives resorted to a trance-like repetition of their mantras of ‘transformation’ and ‘innovation’. They endorsed the report 9-0.
However, our opposition is not at an end. We can confirm that, with the co-operation of the Borough First independents, we will be challenging this decision at the next meeting of the Adults, Children and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel.