A service in Wensleydale providing support to new parents and young children is to close, with families directed to Catterick Garrison instead.
North Yorkshire Council’s executive has approved the closure of five more of its designated children’s centres including the Wensleydale Children’s Centre in Askrigg.
The centres were created as part of a multi-million pound Government investment in the county following then chancellor Gordon Brown’s announcement of Sure Start centres in 1998.
The Tory-run authority, which has recently branded the amount of capital funding it receives from the Government as totally inadequate, said the latest wave of de-designating buildings – ones serving the communities of Nidderdale, Kirkbymoorside, Eastfield, South Craven and Wensleydale – would enable them to take on new uses.
The future use of some of the buildings, some of which have not been used since before the pandemic, remains unclear.
The county’s network of designated children’s centres has been declining for a decade. Between 2014 and 2016, North Yorkshire County Council closed 13 children’s centres, which had seen a total Sure Start investment in buildings of £3.6m.
At their peak in 2010, nationally there were 3,600 Sure Start centres, with a budget of about £1.8bn, but studies found their popularity decreased alongside Government funding cuts.
In addition, over the last two years, during and following the pandemic, early years help at the authority has been redesigned to support children and their families using many more virtual activities, reducing the need for the same number of buildings and improving access to services.
As such, the council’s public consultation on proposals to enable the buildings be put to fresh uses received just 16 responses, and only related to the children’s centres at Nidderdale and South Craven.
Most of the responses supported the council’s plan to formally close the centres, with officers saying there was alternative provision available for those centres elsewhere.
However, for some it will mean significantly longer journeys to access services.
For example, with the closure of the Wensleydale centre in Askrigg, which is based at the village primary school, those wanting to use a children’s centre are now directed to facilities 20 miles away in Catterick Garrison.
The latest closures will see buildings which received about £1.3m in Government funding specifically for the delivery of early years provision closed, through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with a focus on outreach and community development.
An officer’s report to a meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s executive states while local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient children’s centres to meet local need, that duty is only “so far as reasonably practicable”.
The report said the move could achieve savings of £181,500.
Liberal Democrat councillor for Nidderdale, Councillor Andrew Murday, told the executive meeting the buildings could still play a key role for the community, highlighting the cost staff making home visits.
He added: “I imagine detecting domestic abuse in someone’s home is much more difficult than in a walk-in centre.”
Coun Murday said while community ventures were providing funding for older people to travel miles to access day centres, the building could also be used to improve facilities, such as libraries.
The authority’s health and adult services boss, Councillor Michael Harrison said the closure of the children’s centres was “a technical event” that should not prevent communities from coming forward with costed plans to use the buildings.
Speaking after the meeting, Upper Dales county councillor Yvonne Peacock said: “Not having the centers doesn’t mean that we won’t be delivering the services locally.”