More dishonesty from Slaughter – this time on children’s centres

In the House of Commons this month the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter announced that as a result of the new administration on Hammersmith and Fulham Council “nine children’s centres have been saved from planned closure.”

As a result I emailed Andrew Christie, the Director of Children’s Services to ask: “If this is correct please advise which children’s centres were due to close and where this supposed plan was outlined.”

I have now had the following reply:

Dear Councillor Phibbs,
Thank you for your email to Andrew Christie, regarding an announcement by Andrew Slaughter MP in the House of Commons that nine children’s centres had been saved from planned closure.

It may help to note at Hammersmith and Fulham Cabinet in October 2014, a decision was taken to extend the current arrangements for Children’s Centre delivery, initially for a six month period up until 30 September 2015. This provision was extended for a further six months until March 2016 if required. Following this decision a press release was issued.  I have enclosed a copy for ease of reference. The press release included reference to cuts in central funding having led to some concerns about potential reduction in services for Children’s Centres.  As far as officers are aware this is the only information that was circulated post the Cabinet decision.

Officers are currently working with Children’s Centres to maximise the offer available for children and families at their sites,  including where possible progressing the option to offer targeted two year old early places onsite and working with health colleagues to ensure a integrated health offer is part of the local offer.

I do hope that you find the above helpful.

Rachael Wright-Turner
Director of Commissioning
Children’s Services

The press release is here.

So in other words there were no plans – from Council officers or the previous Conservative administration or anyone else – to close any children’s centres in our borough. Let alone to close nine. The Labour council has renewed the contracts and continued the same policy. That is sensible of them. But they really should put up or shut up with their allegations about a secret closure plan.

Mr Slaughter has form on this. In 2011 he said nine children’s centres were about to close.

This week the Health Minister Jane Ellison said:

“I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has a dismal track record of campaigning on this issue. We have all seen the leaflets being put out in west London. I can only say to his constituents that in the run-up to the election they would glean more from reading their tea leaves than from reading his leaflets if they want to know the truth about the NHS in west London.”

The same applies to children’s centres.

Piers Player: The extraordinary history of the Brunswick club

A guest post from Piers Player, Senior Youth and Development Worker of  the Brunswick Club

BrunswickDouble_tcm21-123239The Brunswick Boys’ Club Trust was established by a Declaration of Trust on 26 February 1945 by British officers held as prisoners of war in Oflag 79, a WWII prisoner of war camp on the outskirts of Brunswick in Germany.

As the war approached its end the prisoners of Oflag 79 conceived the idea that they should form a Club for “the boys who will be the Men of Tomorrow and who need opportunities to develop their potential. Let this Boys Club be a memorial to the comradeship we have shared in our captivity and let it be a living memorial to those of our friends who have fallen”.

In 1947, using the money pledged by the prisoners of war in Oflag 79 and money raised in subsequent fund-raising campaigns, the Brunswick Boys Club Trust purchased a site in the centre of Fulham – “a somewhat depressed area that had suffered substantial damage during the Blitz.”

The original object of the Trust was to “promote the bodily, mental and spiritual welfare of boys in the United Kingdom under the age of twenty-one.” On 14 May 1997 the Trust changed its name to The Brunswick Club Trust and the object was amended to “promote the development of boys and young men and girls and young women in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential.”

brunswick13_tcm21-133094Initially consisting of two Nissen huts, The Brunswick Boys Club (as it was then called) has since been renamed The Brunswick Club for Young People and is now a purpose built youth centre offering a range of excellent facilities and services for the young people of Hammersmith & Fulham.

Currently it provides:

  • a three day a week Senior Youth Club for young people in school years 7 and above;
  • a two day a week Junior Youth Club in school years 2-6;
  • a weekly girls group for 11 to 16 year olds;
  • a weekly after school club for children with moderate learning difficulties;
  • a weekly table tennis club for children aged 5 to 11 years;
  • six competitive football teams from Under 9s to Under 15s;
  • seven weeks of Junior holiday activity schemes; and
  • an annual holiday residential to Hindleap Warren Outdoor Activity Centre in East Sussex.

The Club is also used regularly by other organisations providing services and activities for children and young people, including the Kixstar Dragon Taekwondo Club, Little Kickers Football Club and the Fulham Junior Chess Club.

Providing a range of services six days a week, with a membership of over 600 children and young people and an average daily attendance of 85+, the Club enjoys a good level of support and respect within the local community.

Labour’s u-turn on children’s centres

Among the many false claims made by the Labour MP for Hammersmith was that the Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham council was going to close nine of the 15 children’s centres. He specifically said they would close in July 2011. There would just be the “shell of a building”.

In fact the number increased from 15 to 16. The number of sessions at them has doubled. They have more visitors than before. At the same time there has been greater specialisation for those with complex needs. To say that nothing is taking place – that nine of these centres is “just a shell of a building” is not only dishonest but insulting to the fantastic work that goes on there.

Labour’s council election manifesto was more mildly insulting talking about “their aim of re-establishing an effective Sure Start service” implying that the service being provided was ineffective. The reference to “re-establishing” was also odd – implying that earlier provision was the model to aim for even though there were fewer visitors and less specialist help.

Anyway Mr Slaughter’s claim that nine children’s centres closed is not shared by the Labour councillors who now run the council.

A Cabinet Report approved by Labour this week says:

“Contracts to operate Hammersmith and Fulham’s 16 children’s centre sites are due to expire on the 31 March 2015 and do not contain any provisions allowing for contract extensions. Given the financial value of these services, the Council’s Standing Orders (CSOs) would normally require a competition to be run to determine the award of new contracts.

Due to the recent change in administration, the future shape of the services, including any strategic role the new administration sees the service playing in the delivery of key objectives and priorities, is not yet fully defined. To undertake a full scale procurement exercise at this time would therefore not be sensible.

In these circumstances, it is important that the new administration has sufficient time to consider its options for the future service
based on an informed, evidenced and costed options paper. These options could include a review of the use of existing sites, staffing structure and delivery models.

The most pragmatic solution, both to supporting this process of policy development and maintaining continuity of a statutory service with minimum disruption to service users, is to further extend the existing arrangements for a period of up 12 months, by which time future direction and priorities will be clear.”

I am pleased the arrangements are being extended for another year. However there will be considerable uncertainty as to what will follow. If there will be genuine improvements then, of course, that will be welcome.

Still at least Labour now seem to accept that the 16 children’s centres – they are listed here – are not figments of the imagination.

No doubt Mr Slaughter will be anxious to apologise for his misleading claim.