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MP highlights concern for Woodgrove Children's Centre in Parliament

10th September 2013
MP highlights concern for Woodgrove Children's Centre in Parliament

Local MP Gordon Henderson has highlighted in Parliament his concern over the proposed closure of Woodgrove Children’s Centre in Sittingbourne.

Mr Henderson, who took an opportunity at this week’s Education Question Time to raise the future of Woodgrove, said:

‘I raised the issue in Parliament following my letter to the KCC Cabinet Member, Jenny Whittle, that I wrote back in July.

‘At that time I set out in the strongest possible terms my concerns about the proposal to close Woodgrove. In particular, I pointed out serious flaws in the rationale behind the KCC decision.

‘I appreciate that Mrs Whittle and her colleagues have some difficult financial cuts to make, but balancing the KCC budget on the back of closing Woodgrove is not acceptable to me.

‘Later this month I will be joining Mrs Whittle at a meeting with staff and local councillors and very much hope that she will come with an open mind, listen to our arguments for keeping the Woodgrove Children’s Centre open, and abandon this proposal.

‘I decided to raise the issue with the Government in the hope that ministers would put pressure on the KCC, but sadly the response from Liz Truss was not terribly supportive, although she did make clear that local authorities have a duty to ensure that parents get the support they need.

‘We now need to persuade the KCC to continue supporting the parents that use the Woodgrove centre.’


Text of letter to Cllr Jenny Whittle

I am writing formally to object to the proposed closure of Woodgrove Children’s Centre in Sittingbourne, and a reduction in hours at Beaches and Lilypad Children’s Centres on Sheppey.

I believe that these decisions were based on a deeply flawed rationale and I am very concerned at the consequences to some of my most vulnerable constituents.

For instance, the suggestion that Woodgrove and Beaches do not serve areas in which children and families need early support services is bizarre. In fact, both areas contain many families who require support, not least because their children have special needs.

I appreciate it is difficult to get to visit the centres those families who need the most help, however, it will be even more difficult to help hard to reach mothers if you reduce access to local child care.

Your consultation document also uses as the rationale for your proposals the fact that many of the centre users attend other centres also. Whilst I accept this as a matter of fact, I believe it ignores entirely the reasons for such multiple use. Often the reason is less about a choice and more to do with a particular support service being available at one centre and not another.

Surely, the answer is not to close Woodgrove, but to enhance the range of services available at the centre, thereby ensuring that parents do not have to visit a different centre?

Finally, the suggestion that Woodgrove is only 800 meters from Sittingbourne Library is laughable. It might be true if you are a bird, but most of the centre users are not crows, they are people, many of whom do not have their own transport!

Anyway, I simply do not see the logic in stating that because Sittingbourne Library registers birth, it will in some way be able to encourage hard to reach mothers to visit a centre in either, Grove Park, Milton or Murston, when the KCC itself admits it is difficult getting them to visit Woodgrove.

I very much hope that you will reconsider this ill conceived proposal.

Text of the parliamentary exchange between Gordon Henderson and Liz Truss (Minister).

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con):

I listened carefully to the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), in response to a question from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who raised the issue of Sure Start children’s centre closures in Kent. One of those centres is Woodgrove Children’s Centre, in one of the most deprived areas of Sittingbourne. Will my hon. Friend take steps to reassure herself that Woodgrove’s closure is justified, and will she persuade Kent County Council to change its mind if it is not?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss):

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that parents get the support they need and that children get the right outcomes. We are refocusing the system on outcomes and quality, and that is what Kent County Council should be looking at.

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