Cuts will hit vulnerable families, union warns

A trade union has warned that upcoming cuts to children’s centres will impact Bristol’s “most vulnerable families”. Bristol City Council is proposing to save £1.2 million by reviewing how its children’s centres and family hubs operate, with fewer staff and more services delivered online.

Children’s centres across Bristol provide a range of support including daycare, family health services, parenting support, help for children with special educational needs, home visits and benefits advice. But if planned budget cuts go ahead, they could have fewer staff and buildings.

The council is planning a review of children’s centres and family hubs, as part of its budget for the next financial year, which begins this April. Little so far has been made public about the exact changes proposed, but a consultation report on the budget gave some details.

The report said: “We are proposing to review how we provide Early Help in communities, including children’s centres and family hubs. The aim is to bring together more services that can be delivered from a range of different local venues and increase the amount of outreach work and online support we are able to provide, reducing the spend on buildings and staffing costs.”

Council bosses were urged to consult with staff working in the children’s centres, and listen to their suggestions about how to improve the service, during a meeting of the people scrutiny commission on February 19.

Lorraine Gaskell, from the GMB union, said: “There’s a fear among this workforce, not for their own jobs, but for the children and families they safeguard. These are the most vulnerable families in the city. Given the events in the city in recent months, it’s more important than ever that early years intervention is valued, because that’s what these children’s centres provide.”

The council is facing major pressures on its budget, with the cost of delivering many public services rising while the money it receives from the government has fallen in real terms over the past several years. Many other council services could also see their budgets reduced from April.

Vanessa Wilson, director of children and education transformation, said the council is due to consult staff at the end of March about the planned changes.

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporter