FEARS were raised by opposition councillors as cabinet members unanimously voted to close multiple youth and children centres across Windsor and Maidenhead.

Councillors met virtually via Zoom on Thursday night for the first time since meetings were cancelled in March to discuss the proposal and consultation to implement a new family hub model – two central hubs in Windsor and Maidenhead which will apparently deliver a more targeted service for vulnerable families and improve outcomes for children, young people and families in most need.

This ‘transformation’, as some Conservative councillors called it, will involve closing 14 youth and children centres across the borough and deliver £600,000 in savings from the council’s base budget of £4.1 million.

Five sites will be retained.

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The opposing Independents and Liberal Democrats raised several concerns to Tory members about locations of these centralised hubs for people who cannot access them, the cut to universal services, the impact it will have on the ‘forgotten’ residents and the 17 staff redundancies.

Councillor Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green), leader of the Liberal Democrats, called the reduction in universal services ‘stupid’ and pleaded with cabinet members to reconsider the plan to close youth and children centres across the borough – especially the centre in Pinkneys Green.

He said: “I think often it’s the residents who are forgotten about when we’re in this desperate search for savings.

“It really is proven that it’s these early years that are so essential in children development. Waiting until families that are in crisis is not the way forward. It just seems stupid to me.

“By focusing on people that are already in your system, you’re rejecting so many parents that are not flagged up who are equally in need.

“Universal youth work is vital to helping young people. Not everybody wants to join the girl guides or scouts – they value these youth club provisions that are so important.”

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He added: “I’ve spoken to staff at the children centres and youth clubs and I got very negative comments about the direction. I wonder if you’re hearing what you want to hear or whether they were afraid to say what they really thought because they certainly weren’t positive about it to me.”

Councillor Ross McWilliams (Conservative: Cox Green), lead member for housing and youth engagement, said the average attendance at Pinkneys Green youth centre was low at about 0-3 attendees, claiming it’s not right allocate resources where they need to be used in a more effective way.

However, the services Pinkneys Green centre provides will continue at the Riverside centre which he says is less than two miles away.

He said: “The cost of maintaining a building for that universal provision is a waste of cost because it could be spent on targeting that support at those individuals who might be using the centre to access other services in their own homes.

“The idea that the staff were afraid of saying their own views is abhorrent. These workshops were run in an open way there were many held throughout all the different services. Staff were central to helping form this policy.

“The universal model was something that happened in the past and we’re moving towards a more targeted approach because that’s where the expert evidence is pointing, so I don’t think staff were afraid to give views. I think they gave them very honestly.”

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Councillor Stuart Carroll (Conservative: Boyn Hill), cabinet member for social services, added not all the universal services will be cut as health care worker visits and school nursing will remain.

Just over 500 responses were received from a 12-week consultation taken before lockdown began – with 36 per cent of consultees agreeing with the family hub proposal, 32 per cent disagreeing and another 32 per cent did not know or were neutral.

The family hubs will be operated at Riverside Children’s Centre in Maidenhead and Windsor Youth Centre on Alma Road where they will be operational on September 7, 2020.