Job cuts likely at children’s centres

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DOZENS of council workers are set to lose their jobs after civic chiefs “reluctantly” agreed to close two children’s centres.

Bushbabies and Chatham House day care centres, which are run by Hartlepool Borough Council, will close by January with the loss of 29 full and part-time staff.

It also means dozens of families will have to find alternative arrangements to have their children looked after.

Councillors said the decision to axe the heavily-subsidised service – which costs £195,000 a year to run – was taken with a “heavy heart”.

Independent councillor Cath Hill, portfolio holder for children’s services, and Labour councillor Robbie Payne, portfolio holder for finance and procurement, made the decision at a joint meeting.

Closure was one of three options which included continuing to subsidise the service or putting it out to tender to gauge interest from private

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Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) regulations, which protects employees’ terms and conditions of employment.

But Coun Hill said that would delay the inevitable, while officers added that there is enough provision in town to cater for the children.

The council has a duty to ensure there are enough childcare places but it is not required to deliver the childcare due to a change in government policy.

Coun Hill added: “Our backs are against the wall.

“All we are doing is delaying the inevitable for a year. I would rather we didn’t go out to tender.

“There is enough provision, and we don’t need outside people coming in.

“A national organisation coming in would spell the closure of some of our private providers in town.”

Coun Hill added: “It is going to affect people’s jobs, but this is where the government has placed us.”

Coun Payne was critical that not all options had been considered.

He said: “There does not seem to have been a business case to keep one or both open.

“Our priority should be to provide as many services as we can, and employ as many people as we can.”

Caroline O’Neill, the council’s assistant director for performance and achievement, said: “The duty was on the council but that has changed with the coalition government.

“That has put us in a difficult position.

“We are not given the funding to continue the service, and we are not expected to.”

She added they would support staff and families affected.

Bushbabies is an all-year round daycare facility for youngsters aged from birth up to five, which runs from the Rossmere Sure Start Children’s Centres, in Rossmere Way.

The nursery has 98 registered children and 17 staff.

Chatham House day care caters children of the same age from the Chatham House Sure Start Children’s Centre.

It has 69 registered children, and 12 staff.

Meanwhile, it has also been agreed to merge two of the OSCAR sites, which provide an out of school child care service.

OSCARs is currently based at Miers Avenue Sure Start building and Owton Manor Community Centre but it will be moved to a suitable site in the centre of town.

The service, which caters for four to 16-year-olds, currently employs 10 staff but there will be a restructure as a result and further redundancies.

Each site looks after about 34 children.