Call-in of Early Help service changes for West Sussex is rejected

A redesign of West Sussex County Council’s Early Help service will proceed as a call-in of last month’s decision by opposition groups was rejected.

Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 11:40 am
A protest outside County Hall before last month's cabinet meeting

Last month cabinet members agreed to remove the services from all but 12 children and family centres across the county.

While the Conservative-led council said the changes aimed to make more effective use of its resources and the support given to the county’s most vulnerable families, the proposals have proved unpopular.

The majority of consultation respondents opposed them and a petition opposing cuts to children and family centres topped 10,000 online signatures.

The Labour group launched a bid to call-in the decision, backed by Lib Dem councillors, but this has now been rejected by the monitoring officer, who felt the proposals and supporting information had already been fully examined on two occasions by the relevant scrutiny committee.

Caroline Baxter, deputy leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said last week: “The overwhelming majority of people who responded to the consultation didn’t want their centres to close.

“We believe this decision has been a done deal for months, if not years.

“To then have one of the biggest responses ever to a consultation and then ignore all those people who responded shows the disdain this Conservative administration at the county council has for its residents.”

The call-in argued that the consultation process was flawed as even officers felt the public had not fully understood the service they were commenting on, the cabinet had not ‘paid due regard’ to the scrutiny committee’s comments and the need for detailed assessments of the existing routes to identify children requiring support.

They also felt the decision had been predetermined as evidenced by WSCC not filling staff vacancies last year and not fully reopening children and family centres once the appropriate restrictions had lifted.

The call-in pushed for the proposals to be suspended, the consultation to be re-run and once proposals move to the implementation phase, the demand for Early help services is monitored and savings from any redesign ringfened to fund any increase in demand.

But ultimately the call-in was rejected and the proposals as agreed by cabinet last month will now be implemented.

Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The county council is absolutely committed to providing an Early Help service that is wholly focused on improving our support to the children and families who need our help the most and doing so in the way that best meets their needs.

“I would like to reiterate our thanks to everyone who took part in the ten-week public consultation on our Early Help service. Significant changes have been made in response to the feedback received which we consider will further enhance what we now plan to deliver.

“I hope we will all be able to work together to focus on the help needed by all of the children and families in West Sussex. ”