Ignoring the 3 out of 4 people who responded to consultation by asking for children’s centres to stay open, the Tories in control of West Sussex County Council have voted to close them instead.
Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors on the Children and Young People’s Services Scrutiny Committee fought to stop the closures. However, even the Tories who had expressed reservations in earlier discussions followed the party line and used their majority to push them through for approval by the Cabinet. Scrutiny committees are meant to take a non-party view of proposals – the Tories clearly weren’t going to let that happen!
The vast majority of people who had responded to the consultation wanted to keep them. The Tories’ comment was that these people clearly didn’t know what they were opting for and their responses must have been part of an organised political campaign.
In the Horsham District area, this means that instead of five centres, there will be just one, in Horsham town centre. Elsewhere, parents will no longer have the chance to use a centre to meet other families with similar issues, receive counselling or support or just get to know what services might be available to them. The plan is to provide help to the most vulnerable children through increased numbers of workers from those services going out to them, in their homes or very local spaces. Schools are supposed to receive more consistent opportunities to discuss vulnerable children with the support services.
In other words, as demand for support for vulnerable families soared, both before and during the pandemic, the Tories were deciding to cut it for financial reasons, even as the situation got even worse. When their consultation didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, they ignored it. When the opposition raised legitimate concerns about how some vulnerable children might be unprotected in future, they voted those down on party lines.
They don’t listen – they don’t want to know – they just don’t care.