A final decision on the latest plans to cut council-run children’s centres in the county is expected to be made next week.

After proposals to scrap the county’s 35 children’s centres emerged more than one year ago there have been a series of public consultations and  campaigns.

Now, final plans to “close” 19 children’s centres and create 16 family centres in the county will be presented to Bucks County Council’s (BCC) cabinet on Monday.

During a press briefing today (February 25) council bosses insisted the 19 centres set to be scrapped will still provide services for young families – however they will not be run by BCC.

Creating additional nursery and pre-school places, continuing early years services such as baby and toddler groups and health clinics are among the proposals for the closed centres.

The latest set of plans include two extra family centres than what was originally proposed, following feedback from members of the public during the consultation.

The family centres will provide support for families with young people aged 0 to 19, three of which will be known as “family centres plus” based in Aylesbury, Amersham and High Wycombe.

The controversial debate on changes to the service has rumbled on for over a year – following the announcement the 35 children’s centres in the county would be replaced with nine hubs in 2017.

A public consultation was then abandoned in March 2018 after families and campaigners raised concerns over the quality of the investigation.

Since then the council has run another 10-week public consultation with the help of independent agency BMG research.

Alka Dass – who has campaigned against the closure of the centres – said the latest plans are “more thorough” however she is still concerned about the loss of certain services.

She added BCC should postpone its final decision on plans – which are set to come into force in September – until the new all-encompassing unitary authority is launched next year.

Mrs Dass said: “I think it is a lot better in terms of being more through than last time round, but I think realistically they are closing down 35 children’s centres – no matter you dress that up with family centres or hubs.

“I still think they should postpone it until the new council comes in. In a year we are going to have a new unitary council that may disagree with the decision.

“We should be waiting a few months down the road. When you spend two years not doing it properly, wait until you have a new council in place.”

The plans form part of an overhaul of BCC’s Early Help service – which will be renamed the Family Support Service, providing support for a wider range of people.

The new service will include three family support teams based in different areas of the county that will work together with other organisations, such as schools and health, to improve support.

Each family who accesses the service will also be provided with a key worker, there will be improved online guidance for families and family support workers will be intorduced in schools as part of the plans.

Cabinet member for children’s service at BCC, Warren Whyte, said the proposals “are not about the closure of 35 children’s centres” but “retaining 16 sites.”

He said: “We want to call our new service the Family Support Service which is really important.

“It picks up off feedback from the consultation that this needs to be more identifiable, who can use it, who it is for and what they do.

“Family Support Services are the overarching name for a range of activities, one of which will be children’s centres. Also, it’s about having three professional teams located around the county to be more proactive and provide a targeted service to our residents, hopefully earlier than we currently do. We know our current Early Help is not good enough.”

Director of children’s services at BCC, Tolis Vouyioukas, said only 15 per cent of families that need help are accessing it through the current Early Help service – so the new scheme aims to reach out to “as many families as possible”.

To view the full council paper due to be presented to cabinet next week visit https://democracy.buckscc.gov.uk/documents/s130406/Report%20for%20Early%20Help%20Review.pdf