Legal battle ahead over services for children

A High Court legal challenge has been launched against Oxfordshire County Council over the closure of some of the county's children's centres.

Thursday, 26th May 2016, 11:08 am
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2016, 12:13 pm
An eight metre long, 9,000 signature petition was handed into Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet meeting to protest at proposals to close several children's centres. NNL-160526-110601001

On Tuesday, OCC’s cabinet voted in favour of the reorganisation of children’s services, which would include eight children and family centres – one in Banbury – two ‘shared locality bases’ – one in Banbury – and eight outreach centres – three in Banbury.

The county’s remaining children and family centres would close. Funding for the service included £2 million freed up from amendments to OCC’s budget in February.

But campaigners have launched a bid for a judicial review against the process behind the proposals.

An OCC spokesman said the claims by campaigners were ‘legally and factually misconceived’.

“Their case is local authorities cannot take any service delivery decisions which are firm for more than one financial year and cannot plan ahead of that. That is obviously not the law. The children’s centres campaigners have not explained why they say it is, or referred to any statutory provision or other authority in support. The council has carried out two consultations and conducted impact assessments,” he said.

Melinda Tilley, OCC councillor for children, education and families said: “We want to reduce the impact of the savings we are having to make. This is an improved offer on our original proposal. It significantly increases the reach and power of our new model.”

She added: “We know people value the current arrangements and we are glad to be able to extend those until next spring. However the inescapable reality remains the council is in the midst of saving £361m across all services, not just children’s service, from 2010 to 2020.”

But campaigner Jill Huish said: “You can talk party politics or money worries but essentially, you can’t decide what children’s centres provision you will provide based on budgetary considerations. It has to be decided based on service needs in an area and what Oxfordshire families need.”