Thursday, 28 October 2010

Kennington Park Children's Centre to close

Lambeth Council published a report on 22/10/2010 that was made public yesterday(ish), announcing that the Kennington Park Children's Centre (on its current site in the park) is to close for three reasons:

1.  Henry Fawcett School is judged to be in a position to provide leadership and support for the Centre if it's located on the school site.  (The report indicates that a national policy may be introduced requiring Local Authorities that are managing Children's Centres to outsource them to third party organisations).

2.  The new location (at Henry Fawcett School) is judged to be more accessible for catchment area (across Oval ward) families.  The report oulines the fact that the new site should "increase access by community groups that are currently underrepresented", but it doesn't say what it means by that.  [Are we talking about people who live in the south of Oval who wouldn't cross the park, or people of under-represented races, or underrepresented income?  I hate it when underrepresentation is raised, but it's not outlined what is meant by that word.]  Moving the site, in any case, puts it nearer to where most of the users of the site live.

3.  Long term sustainability for the Children's Centre will be secured.

To be fair, the report accurately records that "current users" would prefer the Centre to remain in the park, whilst non-users would prefer the site to move to Henry Fawcett.  The results of the questionnaires are quite mixed.  48% of responses would prefer that the centre stay on site, 41% want it moved and the rest were undecided.  I suspect that the decision had already been made on the basis of finance, and perhaps in the current climate, we should be relieved to retain a Children's Centre in Oval ward.  (For my last post on this matter, see "When consultation risks being lip service".)

The report outlines the fact that the Children's Centre received a budget of £304,170 (2009-2010), funding management, administration, teaching, outreach and the creche, but also notes that maintenance and running costs are high and have to be sustained through that budget.  The difficulty is that when a Children's Centre is located on a school site, the costs are shared, whereas in a stand alone site, costs fall entirely on the Centre itself.  £200,000 of income (2009-2010) was also sourced from elsewhere.  The report is not clear on where the £200,000 came from.  The entire cost of the Children's Centre was (2009-2010) £591,500, leaving a deficit of £87,500, which actually, doesn't sound to me as though it's a massive deficit that couldn't have been covered in other ways, but if the Council need the site for the PRU (see below), I can see why the Children's Centre would have to move.  (Interestingly, there's a slight risk that lots of dissenting parents will not continue to use the Children's Centre on the new site, which could leave the Council with a deficit for the next few years, but they're balancing that against capital cost savings).

There are a number of interesting statistics within the report eg. Oval Ward is one of 20% most deprived national wards and a third of users of current Children's Centre users are actually from Southwark.  Services available to those on ward boundaries often suffer and I'm not sure whether Lambeth will be able to be so partisan when the proposals for the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham partnership are put together, but since there's a nearby Children's Centre in Southwark, I can see the rationale for the move.

The major loss appears to me to be a lack of childcare for children between 0 and 2.  This will not be offered at Henry Fawcett, but instead through "associate childminders".  I'm not too clear on what an associate childminder is, so would be grateful for comments.  The report is quite clear that the capital money to be spent on amending the school could have been used on renovating the Children's Centre, but the timeframe is not sufficient to complete a feasibility study and carry out the works, and the Council also estimates that additional repairs would be necessary.

I was wondering what would happen to the Kennington Park Children's Centre site, but apparently, it would house (if money is forthcoming, which it probably won't be now the cuts have been announced) the Primary Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).

The new Henry Fawcett site should come into use between March and April 2011.  I can't say that I'm entirely surprised, but if the PRU funding doesn't come through, it will leave the Kennington Park Children's Centre empty.  That would add it to a fast growing list of "empty" buildings; the former Lilian Baylis is in meanwhile use, the Beaufoy Insitute is empty and the Olive School (I believe) is empty .  Proposals for the former Lilian Baylis will be heard at the KOV meeting on Monday 1st November (see calendar), but it won't happen that quickly. I heard on the grapevine that the Olive School is temporarily being used as a PRU, but I'm not sure whether a new tenant has been found.  Would be grateful for comments on that too, so I can update.

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