Monday, 27 September 2021

Children’s centre could be saved but lose three-quarters of budget

A CHILDREN’S centre in Watlington could be saved from closure but lose three-quarters of its £100,000

A CHILDREN’S centre in Watlington could be saved from closure but lose three-quarters of its £100,000 council grant.

The centre, which is based at the village primary school, is one of 44 in Oxfordshire run by the county council that are under threat.

The council plans to replace them with eight children’s and family centres in order to save £8million.

The possible deal to save the Watlington centre was drawn up at a meeting between parish council chairman Ian Hill, Chalgrove Parish Council chairwoman Ann Pritchard and the area’s county councillor Mark Gray.

Cllr Gray told the pair that the county council didn’t really want to lose the children’s centres but had no option due to the savings it had to make. It was keen to keep some centres in “some form or other”.

He suggested that the authority could fund maintenance of existing children’s centre buildings but tranfer responsibility for those it owned to local bodies such as parish councils.

The council would continue to provide statutory health and family services at these centres and seek to maintain stay and play activities using volunteers.

It would also seek local sources of funding or support from schools, housing associations, GP surgeries and public donations, or introduce small charges for those parents who could afford them. Parish councils would be asked for grants which would be £3,000 each in the case of Watlington and Chalgrove.

Watlington Parish Council is to ask residents for their views on what priority the children’s centre should be given in its budget for next year.

It will also ask for views of people’s other priorities, including street cleaning, weekend bus services, the sports pavilion and the neighbourhood plan.

The council says that with budget cuts at the district and county councils, it is being forced to look at where it can help with their services. At present the council receives a £5,800 grant from South Oxfordshire District Council to cover the cost of street cleaning. It is proposing to reduce and scrap this.

Street cleaning costs the council about £6,350 a year for daily cleaning of the village centre. If it relied solely on the district’s contracted service from Biffa the cleaning frequency would drop to once a fortnight with litter bins emptied once a week.

The council is already subsidising the Saturday evening and Sunday bus services to Oxford.

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