£5m blueprint to save Liverpool’s children’s centres revealed by former Lib Dem councillor Paul Clein
Former Lib Dem councillor Paul Clein, who was Liverpool council’s education chief from 1998 to 2008, says the city will run out of money to keep the centres afloat after 2017 unless extra cash is urgently found.
Earlier this year the council announced plans to axe 10 of its 17 children’s centres in the wake of swingeing Government cuts, but they were granted a two-year stay of execution after £2.4m of emergency funding was pulled together.
Now Labour Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has asked former political foe Mr Clein to lead a review into how the children’s centres can survive beyond 2017.
Speaking exclusively to the ECHO, Mr Clein said other public bodies – such as the NHS – need to hand over cash to help keep the children’s centres afloat.
He said: “I’m hopeful we won’t have to close any and, if there are closures, we will keep it to an absolute minimum.
“The council found £2.4m to keep them open temporarily – that enables them to keep the life support system on, but we need them for future years.
“High-quality care in early years means people are more likely to be employed, their income will be higher and they are less likely to be involved in drugs
As well as childcare, the city’s children’s centres are used to offer services including parenting classes, immunisations, health visits and breastfeeding sessions.
According to Mr Clein, the following must be considered if the children’s centres are to survive beyond 2017:
1) The Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which has a £730m annual budget to pay for NHS services, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and the city’s housing associations may be asked to contribute a total of around £5m a year for using the children’s centres to provide their own services. Mr Clein said: “The CCG in particular have got to come up with some money and I’m not sure some of the CCG’s board members see that.”
2) The children’s centres may begin offering services for youngsters aged up to 18, instead of the current cut-off at the age of five – while rebranding them as ‘children, family, health and wellbeing centres’, offering a wider range of services to make them more sustainable.
3) Mergers of some of the 17 existing children’s centres to cut down on management costs – meaning some could become akin to satellite branches of larger centres.
4) The running costs of the children’s centres may be re-examined. Council-owned children’s centres usually cost no more than £40,000 a year in premises costs, but some are housed in sites built using NHS private finance initiative (PFI) money, meaning they cost more than £130,000 a year in premises costs. There have already been lengthy negotiations to bring these huge price tags down, Mr Clein said.
5) If all else fails, some children’s centres may be forced to close outright. Mr Clein said: “The status quo means the closure of some in two years’ time.”
He continued: “If the service providers using the children’s centres, such as the NHS, don’t start paying, the centres will close and they will have to find somewhere else – and that will cost money.
“Getting them to pay more is a no-brainer to me if you look at the client group we are serving – including parents and children in some of the most deprived areas. We have an opportunity to give them a much better quality of life.”
The task group chaired by Mr Clein will report back to the Mayor before Christmas.