Sunday, 13 June 2021

Children’s centre to lose staff

FOUR more staff are set to lose their jobs at the Henley children’s centre.

The news comes just two weeks after the Henley Standard exclusively revealed that a review is being carried out into how the Rainbow centre and its sister centre in Sonning Common are run.

The review is being carried out by Action for Children, a national charity that won the contract to run the service on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council just over a year ago.

The administrator at the Henley centre has already left and now four out of the five remaining staff are set to take voluntary redundancy following a consultation meeting with Action for Children on Tuesday.

The Standard understands they have been invited to apply for new roles but these would require them to travel and have certain IT skills. The idea is that they would become outreach workers and might have to travel as far as Thame and Wallingford.

The staff have until next Tuesday to decide whether to apply or accept redundancy.

The centres, which are at the d:two centre in Market Place and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, help needy families with children from birth to age five.

Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “There are likely to be four redundancies at the Henley Rainbow centre and a serious question has to be asked of the county council and Action for Children about how they are going to adequately staff the centre.

“If four are going who is going to replace them and are they going to be Henley residents? It’s absolutely ridiculous to ask workers that are based at the Henley centre and giving great service to families in Henley to ask them to travel around the area.”

Councillor Gawrysiak added: “One thing I find absolutely shocking is that the employees have been told by Action for Children not to speak to anyone about this as it might well become a dismissible offence.”

The Mayor hopes to arrange a meeting with Action for Children and said: “We want them to actually come to Henley and explain what their rationale is - what is their thinking?”

David Nimmo Smith, a town and county councillor, said he was “extremely concerned” about what he had been told and he planned to speak to council officers.

“I want to make sure the end product — the care and attention and advice to the children — is protected so they get the best service possible,” he said.

Cllr Nimmo Smith said Action for Children would have to go through the children’s directorate to explain what it was doing, why it was doing it and to convince the council what it was doing was viable.

The move comes months after parents won a campaign to stop the threat of the centres being closed as part of cuts by the county council.

Emma Taylor, who launched the campaign and is a volunteer and parent at the Henley centre, said she now feared for the council’s children’s services.

Mrs Taylor, 39, of Western Avenue, Henley, said: “I am really upset about this because I feel like everything they have worked for and built up at the Henley children’s centre is being systematically taken apart by Action for Children.

“We campaigned really hard to save the funding for the centres and ensure services weren’t going to be cut or changed because we felt so strongly about the work they do.

“There’s a danger the roles will be filled by people who don’t live in the area and who don’t have connections to the area and we will lose the fantastic relationships between staff and the community that have been built up over the last few years.

“Action for Children is giving no information of what its overall plan is. I think it’s very high-handed when they are supposed to be acting in the best interests of the community.”

The centres used to be run by youth and community group Nomad, which is also based at the d:two centre, but its contract expired on March 31 last year and the council awarded a new two-year contract to Action For Children.

Former mayor Barry Wood, who sits on Nomad’s advisory committee, said: “The tragedy continues. It’s all going to plan for Action for Children but not to plan for the people of Henley.”

Laurie Long, operational director at Action for Children, said: “Our priority in Oxfordshire is to deliver high- quality services to families in both urban and rural areas.

“To meet their needs we have had to undertake a review of how we provide our services and make some difficult decisions that impact on staff.

“These changes, however, will allow us to reach many more of the county’s most vulnerable children and young people. We will continue to support and communicate with our staff and deliver business as usual to families in Oxfordshire.”

A spokesman for the charity insisted that no redundancies had yet been made and staff had been given a range of options.

He said: “Some of our support workers provide family support services in the homes of families across the area we cover. This is part of the high-quality service that we offer to families in Henley. This is an expectation of many children’s centres and supports the most vulnerable families. This service is provided in addition to sessions held within the centre.”

He said the charity had scrapped a new requirement for staff to drive but had requested they were able to travel across the “reach area” independently.

“We would not expect staff to travel to other areas on a regular basis,” he said. “This might occur if a family moved and they had asked for help to support the transition or for training purposes.

“Pooling staff will enable us to provide a flexible service that best meets the need of the service. In future this will in fact enable us to provide increased service hours to families in Henley and Sonning Common.”

A council spokesman said Action for Children was “currently proposing some changes”.

He continued: “None of these changes would constitute any ‘doubt’ being cast on the future of the centres, which will continue to provide high-quality services for families in Henley and Sonning Common.

“Action for Children intends to increase family support work and enable more families to have access to services.”

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