Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A service too important to cut

The Darlington Early Years Inclusion Service has been the subject of two special Budget consultation sessions over the past couple of days. I've been to both, to try and find out what the real issues are here.

The Council's proposal is to replace the eleven-strong team who provide concentrated, personalised support to a number of disabled and disadvantaged pre-school children, mainly during term time, with a team of three "advisors" providing a fifty two week of the year support service to nursery school staff and other professionals who come into contact with these children.

Not surprisingly, the existing, highly trained, staff are up in arms about this, faced as they are with imminent redundancy from jobs they love. Parents and grandparents have also packed into these consultation sessions. Their personal stories about the superb service their kids receive from the present team should be heard by all Labour cabinet members and councillors before the final decisions are taken about this service. The personal service these children receive just cannot be provided by non-specialist staff under the guidance of "advisors".

The Director of Children's Services says this is not about saving money: it's about widening the inclusion principle to many more children in many different settings. But, after the first year when redundancy payments will cancel out the proposed salary savings, there will be savings for the Council. And, since this debate is taking place as part of the budget process, it inevitably leads parents and staff to see this as primarily a cost-cutting exercise.

We in the Lib Dems, who, apart from the Labour Cabinet Member who attended one of the consultation events, have been the only councillors present at these events, believe this is a service that should be protected. Surely no-one who has heard the testimonies of parents and staff could feel otherwise.

Our position is that this issue should be removed from the budget debate. There needs to be more time for all interested parties, including school heads, teachers and governors, as well as staff and parents, to contribute fully to a debate on the future of this service.
In a caring, civilised society, if we have the capacity to support these kids so that they can reach their true potential, we should do so, even if, at first glance, it represents poor value for money compared to more universal services. The value of the service to these individual children over-rides this, I believe. Some way should be found to support the existing provision, while also looking at ways "inclusion" can be extended to more children in more settings. And the first step is for this proposal to be removed from the Budget process.


ian said...

Could not agree with you more.
For a party that is supposed to be based on looking after the most vulnerable in our society it seems extraordinary that the labour group should make these children the first target of their cuts.


Anonymous said...

I would have thought someone wanting to be the town's mp would not use words 20 years out of date.

It's no use jumping on the bandwagon now. Have you no ideas of your own. Jenny Chapman has already promised to sort this out.

Mike Barker said...

Anonymous: this is an important service to many parents and children. They need political support from all parties to defend their service from the drastic cuts which the leadership in Cllr Chapman's party wants to impose on them.

The Liberal Democrats, through me, have the right to voice their concerns about this, and any other issue affecting Darlington residents, irrespective of who got there first. It isn't a race: it's a matter of doing the right thing.

Furthermore, as to your suggestion that I have no ideas of my own: have a read through this blog and do a Google search to see how many issues I have raised and championed over the past couple of years.