Cuts to children’s centres and services have been a big talking point.

Kirklees Council needs to make £10m of cuts in its services for children and young people.

The department has wide ranging responsibilities from vital child protection and social services to stay and play toddler groups and housing and benefits advice.

Currently there are 32 children’s centres and Kirklees are proposing to have four designated children’s centres in Batley, Dewsbury, Deighton and Slaithwaite or Holmfirth, plus smaller ‘delivery sites’ and a mobile option for the Kirklees Rural area of Colne, Holme and Dearne valleys.

Clr Erin Hill, Cabinet member for Family Support & Child Protection, spoke to the Examiner about plans for the services.

1) What children’s service does the council have to provide?

Statutory services that every local authority has a duty to provide include safeguarding, child protection and looking after children in care.

The bulk of the early help services are less prescribed by central government, so the council has more say in what it provides, where and when.

It’s a red herring to suggest the non-statutory services are not valuable, because if we get those services right then it should prevent demand on the statutory services – for example if we can step in to help a family where a child is at risk due to neglect, poor parenting, poverty, worklessness or housing issues, then we may prevent a bigger issue later on.

Clr Erin Hill

We’re not shying away from the fact we need to save money, childrens centres nationally have had 40% cuts in the last six years and we’ve savings of £10m to make.

But fundamentally we have to do what’s right by families and we need to design a service that works.

I want to reassure people that we’re not going to leave a family without the help they need. Our aim is about creating a service that keeps children safe, healthy and families together.

2) Can you be more enterprising to save children’s centres?

It’s something we are looking at. I know some in some communities services have a charge or donation. From the authority’s point of view it’s best to help the community by allowing use of a building than offer grants. I think it would be counter-productive at this stage for us to consider charging to keep services like Stay and Play.

3) Can children’s centres be run in a similar way to the sports services in Kirklees, through an arms-length organisation?

It’s not something we’ve considered and my initial thought is that it would conflict with our statutory duties. As a council we have to provide social services so to introduce a format like Kirklees Active Leisure or Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing wouldn’t work. And I think it would be confusing for people who may deal with the council for one thing, and someone else for another, it would lead to duplication which we’re trying to cut.

Kirklees Active Leisure logo
Kirklees Active Leisure logo

4) Locala are consulting on how they run community health services, are you talking to them?

Yes and other health services, such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, are important partners for children’s centres. Their staff are at the frontline of our early intervention work.

5) 71% of people in a Kirklees consultation had concerns over the use of volunteers rather than paid professionals, what is your response to them?

We’re not going to force any community to deliver a service, but I do believe the best service for parents are ones that are run by parents.

And we know that volunteers can’t come in and run everything in a children’s centre, but they can play an important role.

In youth services in my own ward I know of people who commit 30 minutes a week and others where it’s become their life. In some cases we get young people aged 18-19 who’ve been through youth groups and they want to give back by helping to run youth activities.

We recognise it can be an intensive service so we’d have someone paid to work with the volunteers.

6) What service is vital for you?

I think one of the best things we can do is help with parental relationships. A study shows that if parental relationships are nurtured it has a massive impact on a child and into their own adulthood. If we can get parental programmes right it means we can help people before any damage is done.

But vital services are different in different areas, in some parts of Kirklees ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and community cohesion work is important, in others it’s about dealing with rural isolation. We recognise that there can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ service.

Colne Valley Sure Start Children's Centre, Cross Street, Slaithwaite.

7) Stay and Play cuts have been opposed by parents, what is its future?

It’s a universal service and one which is visible for most people who don’t experience other work like child protection. If a community identifies there is a need for Stay and Play then we’ll work with them so they can keep it going. Just because the council isn’t providing it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

8) What happens now?

It would be wrong for us to go out to consultation if we have decided everything, so people can still make a difference. The consultation runs until November 22 and Cabinet will consider the feedback in January for implementation from April onwards, but we need to do it in a way that families who need help don’t fall between gaps as the services change. Visit to comment.