Marlborough has failed to save its Sure Start centre from closure by Wiltshire Council
On Tuesday (December 15) Wiltshire Council's cabinet will take a final decision on the future of Marlborough's Sure Start centre - the Corner House Children's centre in the George Lane car park run by the national charity 4Children under a contract with Wiltshire Council.
Whichever way you view the options on this 'Key Decision' before Wiltshire's senior Conservative councillors, it is clear that by July 2016 there will not be a children's centre building in Marlborough.
However, one contributor to Wiltshire Council's consultation has laid bare the need for these services across the Marlborough Area:
"The head of the St Mary's [infant] School in Marlborough reported that the children's centre provides much needed support for families both before and after the children start school. This year's Mosaic Index [population profiling] which comes from the local authority put us as the eleventh most deprived school out of 177 in Wiltshire."
She does not appear to have had the support of any of the area's unitary councillors or of any town councillors.
The consultation is over and it looks as though two Wiltshire communities may have saved their children's centres. "...if providers and local communities are willing to support the funding of this (Wilton and Chippenham)."
That would mean saving 17 out of the county's 30 centres rather than saving the 15 identified in the original policy document. The cabinet will have three options before it:
1) retain all of its 30 children's centres - this is described in the paper from Councillor Laura Mayes as "...not a realistic option".
2) Implement the proposals that were put to the consultation - closing half the county's 30 centres.
3) Implement the revised proposals based on specific feedback to the consultation.
Under 2) the Marlborough centre was "No longer designated as a children's centre building and offered to the community for alternative use."
Under 3) it would still not be designated as a "children's centre building", but apparently would not be offered to the community. The revision involves "Potential for continued use of some space in this building for sessional delivery of children's centre services."
It continues: "There will be a minimum of one day per week of children's centre sessions/drop-in delivered in Marlborough." And organisations interested in running services from July 2016 'may choose' to have more sessions "...on the basis of need in this area." So 'need' in the Marlborough area is finally acknowledged.
Feedback from the Marlborough area was supported by a petition (run by young mother Jemma Clarke) signed by 214 parents - as of December 1.
A strangely different story emerges from the narrative alongside the consultation results for Marlborough. First the petition has only 158 signatures "as of 1 December 2015."
Secondly it is clear that some vital factors have been put forward to Wiltshire Council by worried parents - such as the lack of public transport and high bus fares to get to the nearest centre - in Pewsey (£5 return.) And parents in the Marlborough area are reported as being willing to pay for sessions rather than see the centre close.
The Council's response states that "Services could be delivered on a regular basis 1.5 days per week from the library as a point of access and drop-in." It adds: "Food parcels could be distributed through other venues /organisations." Another belated recognition of need in the area.
There is no evidence put before cabinet that a single town councillor - let alone the Town Council or one of its committees - took part in the consultation or raised their voices with Wiltshire Council to keep the building open as a children's centre.
The document tells us that in Mere and Amesbury town councillors did raise concerns. And in Bradford on Avon the local GPs and school governors expressed their concern at the closure of their centre.
In the section of the document devoted to 'Alternative venues for children's centre service delivery' four places are identified for Marlborough: "Library, Marlborough Leisure Centre, Lawrence Acre Day Room [near Newby Acre] and Methodist Hall Aldbourne."
Under existing law local authorities must "improve the well-being of young children in their area and reduce inequalities between them." That is what
Wiltshire Council's new piecemeal arrangements must be judged against.
The full document before Wiltshire Council's cabinet can be found here.