County councillors have agreed to the closure of 26 family centres across Hertfordshire that are said to be ‘generally not used for service delivery’.

It was also agreed that charges could be made for some of the family support service’s group activities – with concessionary rates to ensure all families can still access services.

The premises set to be de-designated include:

  • Barleyfields, Woolmer Green
  • Tenterfield, Welwyn Garden City
  • The Runway, Hatfield
  • Fleetville, St Albans
  • Batford, Harpenden
  • York Road, Hitchin
  • Great Wood, Essendon
  • Park Street and St Stephens Family Centre
  • Bluebell Family Centre, Hitchin 
  • Lime Tree Family Centre, Letchworth 
  • Lamer Fields Family Centre, Wheathampstead
  • Birchwood Family Centre, Hatfield

The changes are part of a package of measures drawn-up in a bid to reduce the cost of the service by around £750,000, agreed by a meeting of the council’s children, young people and families cabinet panel on Thursday (November 9).

As a part of the existing network of family centres, there are currently 10 – one in each of the county’s 10 districts – that are staffed between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, which will continue to operate as usual.

But the remaining 61 ‘family centre’ premises are only open when they are ‘in use’ – with some said to be used only for office space for staff or storage.

At the meeting councillors heard that of these, the 26 premises earmarked for de-designation were not used regularly for group events, because they were either in wrong place, too small or not accessible to families.

The ‘de-designation’ of the premises would save an estimated £251,195 a year.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Cllr Fiona ThomsonCllr Fiona Thomson (Image: Hertfordshire County Council)

“This is about the de-designation of premises that aren’t currently used for service delivery,” said executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Fiona Thomson

“And I think that’s a very important point to make, because there is a concern that people think we are closing family centre services.

“But actually this is about reducing the number of premises – and these premises that aren’t currently used.”

Councillors were also told that alongside plans to charge for group activities – that may include sessions such as rhyme time or stay and play – there were plans for concessionary rates.

Cllr Thomson stressed that charging would have to be be ‘proportionate’ and ‘reasonable’.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis said he was not surprised by the conclusions reached about the premises.

But he said there would be people who questioned how the council had got itself into the position where such a large percentage of premises were not being used for service delivery.

Labour Cllr Nigel Bell also raised concerns about plans to charge and said he was still concerned that vulnerable families might be cut off.

Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors went on to abstain from the vote on the proposals.

The proposals were subject to three months of public consultation, running between July and October – with staff attending more than 25 community events.