Tories split over children’s centres

Splits within the local Conservative Party have emerged over the future of Children’s Centres, with a Conservative Cheshire East Council Cabinet member belittling the work of Conservative MP Fiona Bruce. At the Cheshire East Council Cabinet meeting on 3 May, Cllr Liz Durham referred to a letter from Fiona Bruce MP on Children’s Centres saying “The reporting of the contents of this letter implied that there is a parliamentary inquiry into Children’s Centres which is not the case” and referred to the group chaired by Fiona Bruce as an informal group of MPs.

Now it has emerged, following a Freedom of Information request by Labour Councillor Dorothy Flude, that Fiona Bruce’s letter to Cheshire East Council was wrongly excluded from the consultation results. The consultation opened on 4 January 2016 and the letter from Fiona Bruce obtained under the Freedom of Information Act is date stamped as being received by Cheshire East Council on 4 January, but it is not included in the consultation responses on the Council’s website and is not referred to at all in the Council’s report on the consultation. At the recent Cabinet meeting it was stated that, “All the correspondence we received during the consultation period regarding to the Children’s Centres themselves were included in all of the considerations.” That statement appears to be inconsistent with the exclusion of Fiona Bruce’s letter.

The proposals to cut £500,000 funding from Children’s Centres in Sandbach, Nantwich, Knutsford and Broken Cross (Macclesfield) were narrowly passed at a Council meeting in February. During a lively debate at the February meeting there was a notable difference between an individualistic Conservative approach and a community based Labour view. Conservative speakers advocated an individualistic one-to-one service and Labour councillors stressed how Children’s Centres promote communities and group support. Children’s Centres were praised by Labour Councillors for the way they bring people together and promote self-help in groups.

Cllr Rachel Bailey, at her first Council meeting as the new Conservative Leader following Michael Jones’s departure, said that some people didn’t go to Children’s Centres because they might meet people they didn’t want to mix with.

Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “Fiona Bruce’s letter is clearly headed “Re Consultation…” and is date stamped as being received during the consultation period. If Councillors had been aware of that letter from Fiona Bruce stating that she was against the closing of the Sandbach Children’s Centre, then perhaps more Conservative councillors would have been prepared to vote against their party whip and support my budget amendment.

“I am disappointed that the 3 Conservative councillors representing Sandbach, Cllrs Gill Merry, Barry Moran and Gail Wait and also Cllr John Wray for Brereton Rural all voted on party lines and supported the ‘de-designation’ of the Sandbach Children’s Centre. If Fiona Bruce’s letter had been available might they have voted differently and my amendment accepted?”

Dorothy Flude, Labour Councillor for Crewe South, said, “The failure to include Fiona Bruce’s letter in the consultation results calls into question the validity of the consultation process and therefore calls into question the validity of the whole decision making process.”

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