Bolton Council is to ax a quarter of workers from a service which aims to improve the lives of young children.
The cutting of 13 jobs at Start Well will save the authority £538,000 per year, along with other measures, but will affect services aimed at families with children aged 0 to five.
Among the services currently provided are baby clinic drop ins, breast feeding support groups, access to community midwives, new baby groups, parenting courses, speech therapy sessions and stay, play and learn sessions
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The Start Well service in the borough implements the Greater Manchester school readiness model and supports the delivery of the Healthy Child Program with health services.
This includes 17 Start Well family centers in the borough, which Bolton Council says ‘delivers evidence-based parenting interventions and groups for families and children’.
On its website, the council says the priority of the service is: “For Bolton to be a place that all children have the best possible start in life so they begin school ready to learn, thrive and be healthy and happy.”
But a report seeking to implement the cuts, which mainly affect front line workers, was this week approved by Bolton’s cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Anne Galloway.
The report, titled ‘Start Well Review Post Consultation’ gives details of final recommendations, which come as Bolton Council implements cuts of £37.2m for the 2021-23 period.
The report states: “This report sets out the final proposals, following consultation, for a review of the Start Well Service. Consultation was carried out with staff, partners, service users and stakeholders.
“If agreed, the proposals would make a contribution of £537,697 to the budget option identified as ‘review of staffing in education services’.
“The proposals indicate a potential overall reduction in staff establishment by an estimated 13.5 posts from an overall total of 52 posts, of which six are currently vacant.
“Due to vacant posts and requests for voluntary redundancy and a number of staff leaving the service during the consultation period, the impact of these reductions will be significantly reduced.”
The report said that in Bolton there was a clear disparity between the most disadvantaged children and the national average of those receiving a good level of early years development.
However, data showed that the gap has narrowed for the most disadvantaged children, including those eligible for free school meals and looked after children.
The report said ‘improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged and closing the gap is a priority’.
To manage the cuts in staff the service plans ‘a reconfiguration and streamlining of the leadership and management of Start Well and to manage a reduction in posts by prioritizing school readiness model and strengthening partnership work with the voluntary sector’.
The proposals also mean the 17 Start Well centers will be renamed as Start Well Family Hubs.
The Bright Meadows Center in Breightmet will also become a Start Well Family Hub, alongside the other 17.
The centers will also now open on Saturdays.
The cuts and new hours have been criticized by UNISON, however.
They said: “This will impact our lowest paid workers. The service is proposing to try and do more with existing resources.
“These workers have always worked Monday to Friday, but they are now going to be expected to work into the evening and at weekends.
“This has caused a large amount of stress as staff have personal circumstances that have never before been impacted regarding their work life balance.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.