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Proposed closure of children's centres in Suffolk will hit rural communities, say protestors, although Haverhill is not affected

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Fresh fears have been raised over the impact plans to close some of Suffolk’s children’s centres will have on rural communities – with some areas set to share just one or two centres.

The concerns are being voiced as Suffolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet today prepares to discuss proposals to close 13 of the county’s 38 children’s centres, and reduce a further nine down to part time hours.

There are no closures proposed in Haverhill however, where the Cartwheels Centre in Greenfields Way has been recommended to become a family hub under the proposed new structure.

The cash-strapped council says it will save up to £1million, but provide further outreach services across the county to make sure the needs of families are met.

Cllr Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services,education and skills. (13869538)
Cllr Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services,education and skills. (13869538)

Eleven of the 13 to close will become nurseries or special educational needs schools under the plans.

The cabinet is today expected to give a green light to a 10-week public consultation on the proposals.

But those opposing the plans say it will stretch existing centres and hit rural communities hardest.

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “We welcome the integration with health and associated services to provide ‘family hubs’ where parents, and carers and families can access advice and support.

“At last it has been recognised the need for more SEND provision.

“However, again I am concerned for those who live in rural parts of Suffolk, where public transport is also under threat. These will be the ones who will suffer most and not be able to take advantage of these new arrangements.

“With a reduction in professional support and a 16% reduction in the cost of the service it will mean some areas will be harder hit.”

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott is raising particular fears over the South Suffolk parliamentary constituency, where just one centre will be left to cover the whole area, and Suffolk Coastal, where four centres could be closed to leave just two.

Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for education, said: “It’s about having a service which reflects the needs of today, changes in social media and the way we communicate.

“Buildings don’t deliver services, it’s the people who do. It’s really to target those families who really need our services, and trying to get early intervention because we all know the sooner you address a problem the better the outcomes.”