Council to pause proposed children’s centre closures

Proposals to close two children’s centres in the north of the borough will be paused to allow wider public engagement to take place into the provision of early years support and childcare, including affordability, Hackney Council has announced. 

Nearly 900 people responded to a Council consultation during the autumn, which included plans to close Hillside Children’s Centre in Homeleigh Road and Fernbank Children’s Centre in Fountayne Road.

The closures were intended to help the Council meet the need for significant financial savings over the next few years, due to the huge impact of 11 years of Government cuts to its budget and of meeting the urgent demands of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the Council has listened carefully to the concerns raised by parents and carers, and has decided to delay any closures until a wider review of borough-wide provision – including broader public engagement – can take place next year. This means the centres will not close in September 2022. 

The Council spends £542 per child aged 0-4 attending children’s centres, compared to a London average of £124 per child, and has one the highest numbers of centres of any London borough. Any review will have to consider how the Council meets its duty to ensure enough childcare places for working parents, provides vital child and family support through children's centres, and manages the impact of falling numbers of children accessing childcare and early education. With government funding for early years continuing to be reduced in real terms, any alternative proposals will still require some difficult decisions.

Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play
I know as a single parent myself what a huge challenge it can be to find affordable childcare, and the value of the brilliant support, advice and care that our staff give to children every day in the 20 centres in Hackney – one of the highest numbers of any London borough, with the highest per child funding.

We’d never choose to stop this provision if we could help it, and we are proud of it. These proposals were designed to protect our wider service in the face of huge financial challenges and ensure we can carry on delivering excellent services to the families who really need it.

The Mayor and I have listened to the concerns parents have raised and we know there is a huge strength of feeling on this issue, so rather than continue with this process now, we want to take more time to engage with everyone about how we provide services to this community and more widely across Hackney. 

But we must be really clear that this pause doesn’t change the reality that there isn’t enough money to continue with our current provision as it is, and we will face very difficult decisions about reducing and reshaping services in the years ahead. 

Having said that, I want to reiterate how much we value our network of children’s centres, and any future proposals will take into account how our services are currently used, and be shaped with a clear focus on how we can achieve the best outcomes for Hackney’s children.
Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play

Staff and parents who use the centres are being contacted directly to inform them about the pause. 

More details will be set out about the next steps in the coming months, as part of the Council’s ambitions in its wider Early Years Strategy, including: 

  • Developing ‘early years hubs’ in the north and south of the borough for children with complex needs.
  • Changing a number of children’s centres into new ‘children and family hubs’ that bring together family support for children of ages 0 to 19 years.
  • Joining early years and health visiting teams to provide combined support and guidance for young children and their families.

All 11 children’s centre nurseries offering childcare places subsidised by the Council are judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. The Council is also concerned about childcare vacancy rates in early years settings across the borough, which mirrors a London-wide trend of falling reception class rolls.

Unlike other boroughs, the Council currently subsidises childcare in 11 of its children’s centres as well as providing early years support for vulnerable children. The Council’s broader funding from the Government has seen its core grant cut by half since 2010, amongst the highest cuts in the country, while demand for many services is increasing.