Sure Start centres face axe to save £60m

Wigan Council leader Lord Peter Smith, Chief Executive Donna Hall and deputy leader David Molyneux
Wigan Council leader Lord Peter Smith, Chief Executive Donna Hall and deputy leader David Molyneux

COUNCIL bosses have unveiled their masterplan to save £60m as they continue to streamline their services in the wake of funding cuts.

Once again borough residents will be asked to put their faith in the town hall’s Deal scheme with the roll out of a new incarnation; the Deal for the Future.

The proposals - which will soon be subject to a public consultation - will include a major restructure in the way in which children’s services are provided.

The borough’s existing 16 children’s centres face being replaced with five community hubs with the local authority hoping to keep job losses down with staff transferring across to the hubs or to independent providers.

Having already found savings of more than £100m since the start of this austerity period, council finance bosses have indicated they will know more after the chancellor’s November statement.

Council leader Lord Smith said the Deal for the Future would focus on driving economic growth while continuing reforms at the town hall and investing in community based projects.

He told the Observer: “We’ve taken most of the simple savings, the low hanging fruit, they’ve all gone now. And we’ve entered into partnerships with Bolton Council for some of our services. If more opportunities like that arise we will take them. But it’s not going to get us anywhere near £60m. This is our way to minimise our impact on Wigan people of austerity, to continue to help them make improvements to their life. We’re doing it much differently to other places.”

Statistics showing 36 per cent of borough youngsters are starting school having not reached the necessary level of development have influenced the decision to establish the five “Start Well” hubs, the town hall said.

These hubs will be focused on the entire family and will be integrated with healthcare providers. Although their locations are yet to be confirmed.

Lord Smith: “We’re finding that children are not school-ready, we will still be doing all we’re doing but we will now do more in this area for those kids.

“It’s how we do it that will change. It’s not a cut in the service, we will continue to provide all the important things for pre-school age children. These places could be integrated with healthcare, that total support that families need. It is done with a different philosophy. We are working with the schools and everyone who is interested in this to get it right.

“The services will be available in a local centre that’s close to you but perhaps not just a children’s centre, it will be a family centre.

“It is definitely not cutting the services. If there’s a children’s centre, the building will close but the service will go somewhere else.”

The approach echoes the council’s transformation of adult social care services which saw existing facilities closed - including the Pines care home in Kitt Green - and a new operating model brought in that focuses on individual needs.

Lord Smith accepted the shake-up could be a hard sell for the public to accept.

He added: “We find that just continuing to run things in the old fashion way is not the way forward but we know we have to get people on our side and we didn’t do that well enough at that stage (with the adult services changes).

“Now we have examples of how these transformations can make things better with different delivery models and achieving our savings targets.”

In terms of job losses, the leadership team remained tight-lipped but pledged to minimise the impact within the children’s services.

Deputy leader Paul McKevitt, said: “We’re thinking about net jobs across the borough so in terms of the Wigan economy, we may see some jobs going from the council but they will be employed elsewhere. Part of the deal is signalling where we want organisations to come forward, so that the net impact on jobs is not too much.”