Cllr Alison Cornell
Cllr Alison Cornell

This week I joined West Sussex’ Labour councillors who led a ‘call in’ of the decision by West Sussex Tories to close 31 out of the County’s 43 Children and Family (Sure Start) Centres, including five in Crawley – Maidenbower, Northgate, Pound Hill, Southgate and Langley Green.

They are axing over 72% of the County’s universal Early Years’ service at a stroke to pay for an improved Early Help Service the demand for which has been rising dramatically.

This is a real robbing Peter to pay Paul policy.

A host of independent reports, (including from the LSE’s Big Change Starts Small and a further IFS report) say clearly that if we invest more in Early Years services, like Sure Start Centres, we can stem the tide of increasing demand for Early Help and protect more families from becoming vulnerable and more children from being hurt. This decision sees West Sussex Tories doing the exact opposite by axing Early Years provision to fund better Early Help support. It is so short sighted and illiterate both financially and (much worse) in human terms.

In the last year for which full figures are available (2019 pre-covid), these Crawley centres delivered nearly 113,000 individual opportunities to provide advice and support to nearly 16,500 local families. Across the County it’s over 460,000 opportunities lost. To remove that amount of support at a stroke, with no robust assessment of the impact on local families, just as we come out of Covid is, at best, reckless. For me, the idea that there will be no impact simply beggars belief.

Over 1800 residents took part in the public consultation of which 73% did not support the closures. 4000 signed an on-line petition against the closures. West Sussex proudly claim to ‘put residents at the heart of everything we do’ – but ploughing on with these proposals feels much more like flying in the face of the views of residents and certainly not in their best interests.

People often say politicians don’t listen, and in this case that’s hard to argue against. They haven’t listened to residents, and they haven’t listened to the evidence. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they were always going to go ahead with these proposals – no matter what the consultation said and that’s exactly what they are doing.

By asking for a ‘Call in’ we were asking Tory councilors to reconsider their decision and respect the overwhelming views of people from across West Sussex who took part in the public consultation.

That they took less than 24 hours to throw out the opportunity for a re-think – that really says it all.

Alison Cornell

County Councillor

Langley Green & Ifield East Division

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