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Bexley Council plans to close its children’s centres

All Bexley Council’s children’s centres could be closed as town hall chiefs try to pay off the cost of steering the borough through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Conservative council needs to save £14 million over the next two years, its senior councillors heard last night.

David Leaf, Bexley’s cabinet member for resources, said he was “not going to sugar-coat” the challenging financial position the council found itself in.

“They say a week is a long time in politics but the world really has changed so much in the last four months. The pandemic has placed substantial financial pressure on this council,” he said, as well as adding his praise for the “extraordinary effort” of council staff and volunteers who had worked and helped throughout the borough during the Covid-19 crisis.

Leaf compared balancing a council budget as akin to “getting a man to the moon and back” but added “whatever the scale of the gap we face … our residents expect to see us balance the books”.

Among the measures proposed are the closure of all council-run children’s centres, with the authority to instead commission a single hub run by the Danson Youth Trust and a smaller hub for young people with special educational needs run by Bexley Snap, a support agency. The proposal would see the council save £492,000 each year for the coming four years.

Philip Read, the cabinet member for children’s services, said the move was necessary given the “significant squeeze” on council funding.

He said the move would “take the centres closer to the communities they’re supposed to help” and there was “scant” evidence the centres were being accessed as they are now by the “neediest families”.

Other proposals would see jobs slashed from different sectors.

They include a plan to cut the equivalent of 16.5 full-time roles by remodelling the adult social care and health service, with outside organisations expected to pick up more responsibilities.

Nine jobs would also go by making the borough’s Learning and Enterprise College “cost-neutral”, by increasing “digital usage, improved planning and efficient teaching structures”.

Louie French, the cabinet member for growth and deputy leader of the council, said the authority was in “extremely challenging” circumstances “but we must do all we can to balance the books”.

“There are certain savings proposals in an ideal world we wouldn’t want to be taking, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt,” he said.

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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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