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Speech by Cllr Emma Norman

Emma CussellThis Council has previously discussed the great work undertaken at the district's two children's centres in Dorking and Leatherhead and we resolved to endeavour to persuade Surrey Country Council to protect these services from drastic cuts. So it is with great disappointment that I find myself having to propose this motion in response to Surrey's Consultation which indicates that it does intend to close the Centre situated in Leatherhead as part of a cost cutting exercise that we understand to be to the tune of some 58% in Mole Valley. This will leave just one Centre located at Goodwyn's in Dorking servicing the entire district.

I understand the need to operate a balanced budget, but I also think we need to question whether a cut to Children's Centres, a service which currently supports around 4,500 children across Mole Valley for less than £1m, is a true cost saving. Or whether in the longer term this will increase the burden on other (more expensive) services such as the NHS, social services, schools and the police.

It is widely acknowledged that the start a child experiences in life is one of the greatest indicators of how they will go on to perform as they develop into adults. If we want stable, healthy, well-educated adults with all the skills to succeed in life then we need to ensure that parents have the right tools at hand to equip their children with capacity, experience and love that will ensure they are well prepared and resilient as they progress through life's challenges.

Currently our Children's Centres are providing these services to a wide range of families - they offer everything from classes on breastfeeding, health, exercise and nutrition, family finances, safety and first aid, and much more. In addition, they provide more targeted support for families most in need.

That range of support, provided in a community setting is so important because families can get the help they need, free of stigma, both from professionals and from the other parents they meet at these centres.

I am pleased to see that Surrey plans to continue to support families who are in the greatest need through outreach services. However, relying on outreach services results in losing some of the key benefits of having a centre:

· Firstly, the ability for mum's, families and children to meet with others who are in similar circumstances and to share their troubles and support one another and feel part of a community. Sometimes just knowing that you are not the only one having a tough time can really help.

· Secondly, an outreach service can actually lead to greater isolation by cutting individuals off and confining them to their home.

· Thirdly, although in many ways it's great to have a scheduled appointment and the promise of someone visiting you at home that may not be the time you are most in need. On a bad day when that appointment is days or weeks away you may just want to pop into a centre nearby and receive some much needed support and advice. The Children's Centre at Goodwyn's is not easily accessible - it's not located in a town centre or near a train station. It would take residents in Leatherhead North around 50 minutes on public transport to reach the centre - no easy task with babies or young children in tow.

I am concerned too that such extensive cuts that result in having to focus services on the most in need, can result in denying a service to many who are (to use a Conservative phrase) "just about managing". While those families may be just about managing now with some low level support provided very cost effectively via Children's Centres, it's feasible that without that support their circumstances could take a downward spiral and they could quite easily fall into having much greater levels of need.

I believe that part of the reasoning behind retaining the Children's Centre in Dorking is because the Holmwoods is the most deprived area in Mole Valley. However, both the Holmwoods and Leatherhead North stand out from the rest of Mole Valley on a number of indices, which suggest to me that both areas need continued support and services. For example, the statistics for Children in out of work households (2016) show the Holmwoods have 185 children (14.8%) and Leatherhead North 160 children (10.6%) affected. And the Children in low income households (2014) show this to be 230 children (18.9%) in the Holmwoods, and 225 (16.3%) in Leatherhead North.

I think we must also consider the future demographics of the north of the district when weighing up this closure. We know that many more homes are required and that homes in the built up environment are favoured - they are likely to appear in Leatherhead, Ashtead, Bookham and Fetcham - and so we need to future proof services in this area of the district to provide the requisite support for a growing population.

The residents that we represent have spoken with a clear voice about the closure of the Children's Centre in Leatherhead, around 500 have so far signed a petition to retain the centre that serves the north of the District. I thank those residents for taking the time to respond.

I will end by saying that I find it hard to believe that we are having this debate in Surrey. This is one of the wealthiest areas of the country. However, we have pockets of deprivation and families and children in dire need of support, and it is these families who will bear the brunt of these cuts.