‘Labour has stooped to a new low’ - calls for ‘sensible debate’ over Norfolk’s children’s centres

Graham Plant, new deputy leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Graham Plant, new deputy leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

A senior Tory is calling for a “sensible debate” over children’s centres claiming Labour “has stooped to a new low” in the row about the service.

Graham Plant, deputy leader of Norfolk County Council and leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, says nowhere in the consultation documents does it say children’s centres will close.

And he is calling for those who make the effort to have their say to carefully consider all the arguments before putting pen to paper and outlining their thoughts.

His comments came as the last of a string of consultation drop-in events are due to be held at Great Yarmouth’s central library on Wednesday, November 7, from 9am until 8pm.

Norfolk County Council announced in September that a review of the service which sees 53 children’s centres operating across the county would take place.

It stated seven would stay open as bases for staff doing outreach work, with the remaining centres “re-purposed” where possible.

But campaigners have been quick to voice their opposition, and last week police were called to a meeting at Yarmouth town hall where the issue was being discussed.Mr Plant said: “Labour has stooped to a new low - frightening the very vulnerable people it says it cares about. That can’t go unchallenged.”

He said there looked to be a better way of delivering the service from buildings like libraries, village halls and GP surgeries that people could get to more easily, amounting to a greater number of venues that could reach more people.

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He said: “At the moment 24pc of the most vulnerable families do not use the service.

“This is about providing a service that will reach everybody.”

Children’s centres were set up in 2001 under Labour with a focus on families with children under five, but times had changed Mr Plant said with new digital technology playing a role.

Under the changes families would have an extended outreach service in multiple venues stretching into evening and weekends with money saved on buildings going on the job itself, he said.

The problem was, he added, that over 2,290 of the most disadvantaged families had no contact with the centres at all for a myriad of reasons.

And across Yarmouth which has seven centres the figure was 19pc.

“It is not a party political issue at all,” he said. “It is about how the county council provides a service to the children of Norfolk, and mostly the 0-5 year olds in Norfolk.

“It seems you get vilified for finding a better way of spending the money.”

The consultation closes on November 12, to have your say click this link.