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Ipswich: Under threat Ormiston Children’s Centre has hours cut drastically

PUBLISHED: 16:43 16 April 2014

L-R: Mark Heasman (Ormiston), Lisa Chambers, Alison Gillies (services manager - Ormiston Childrens Centre) and MP Ben Gummer are pictured at the Ormiston Children Centre in Ipswich which has secured funding.

L-R: Mark Heasman (Ormiston), Lisa Chambers, Alison Gillies (services manager - Ormiston Childrens Centre) and MP Ben Gummer are pictured at the Ormiston Children Centre in Ipswich which has secured funding.

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A political row has erupted after it was revealed an under-threat children’s centre in Ipswich is seeing its services drastically cut.

Labour councillors have moved to condemn the changes at the Ormiston Children’s Centre in Felixstowe Road, which will see it provide only three hours service having previously provided 19 hours.

Suffolk County Council insist the services have simply moved to more accessible places elsewhere in the town, while Ipswich’s Conservative MP Ben Gummer called on both parties to work together on early years education and “stop throwing mud at each other”.

The Ormiston Centre had been due to close at the end of March, and was only saved after last-ditch talks with families that use the centre and an intervention from Mr Gummer.

Now, Labour’s spokeswoman for children and young people on Suffolk County Council, Sonia Barker, has warned parents to be on the lookout for unexpected changes to the provision in their local centres wherever they are in the county.

She said: “The non-U-turn performed by this administration around the closure of Ormiston Children’s Centre is typical of the way the Conservative administration run all services in Suffolk.

“They make a cut, announce they will review and change in the face of public criticism, and then plough on regardless. This is their modus operandi. This council does not listen.

“I fear that the closure of the Ormiston Children’s Centre is just the thin end of the wedge and that the valuable services these centres provide will be lost leaving many of our most vulnerable parents without the support and help they need.”

The centre provides a range of services for parents-to-be and families of under-fives, such as such as a breastfeeding workshop and speech and language sessions.

A spokesman from the Conservative-controlled county council said the change in provision meant “greater choice and opportunities for the people who really need support to access it”.

He added: “We were always going to continue running the current services, albeit from different locations.

“Now, people across east Ipswich will be able to access these services, in locations that are closer to them. We’re also making home visits. This enhances the services that are available.
“Last week, our staff helped a vulnerable family at Hatfield Road Baptist church who, to quote the family, ‘would never have crossed Felixstowe Road’. This is what supporting those that need help is really all about.”

Earlier this month, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, admitted the party would not reverse the decision taken by the Coalition to close 500 Sure Start children’s centres across the country, reflecting a growing trend nationally to focus on services rather than centres in early-years provision.

Mr Gummer said: “Early years is one of the most important challenges of our time, and it’s really important that if we’re going to get this right, that we don’t start the debate by throwing mud at each other.

“That’s why I’d encourage every political party to look carefully at the facts, not to misrepresent the truth, and hopefully to positively contribute to the discussion of how we can do the most for those who have least.”

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