Following two public consultations on where and how community services can be provided in the most integrated, accessible and cost-efficient way across Kent, Cabinet Members have set the course for a transformation that will ensure all families can get the support they need, where and when they need it.
The community services consultation looked at buildings across the county where families can currently access support, some of which are underused, in unsuitable locations and not fit for purpose when it comes to providing joined up support or meeting KCC’s environmental ambitions for the future.
The consultation on Family Hub services considered how children’s centre services, youth services, health visiting and work alongside community-based midwifery care could be brought together, making for easier access.
Throughout, the focus is on need to ensure the best use of funds, supported by strong data and a knowledge of Kent’s residents.
Cabinet opted to co-locate 12 sites, making the most of existing spaces across the county in a move that has a successful precedent. There are schemes already in place - such as children’s services within library settings - that combined make an holistic difference to communities.
The decision on Thursday (30 November) also seeks to exploit complementary digital technology advances and outreach work that will help to extend to children, young people and families who might not otherwise engage with the services available to them.
“We have listened to residents first and foremost and believe that the decision taken by Cabinet is an exciting next step towards putting these vital services where they can deliver the maximum impact.”
In addition, the Family Hub model was approved for Kent by Cabinet. This will unite a range of professional partners from different organisations whose common goal is to give children the very best start in life, and their parents and carers improved confidence and skills, with the help of £11m worth of transformation funding from the Department for Education (DfE) over three years.
KCC was invited to apply for the programme, one that was not offered to all councils.
Sue Chandler, KCC Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, said: “We have listened to residents first and foremost and believe that the decision taken by Cabinet is an exciting next step towards putting these vital services where they can deliver the maximum impact, and offer the best value in what are extremely challenging circumstances for all local authorities.
“The Family Hub programme, and a DfE transformation grant of £11m to develop the offer and deliver it, has given us a fantastic opportunity to provide an improved continuum of support for babies and children in the first 1,001 days of their lives, as well as join up our services for 0 to 19 year olds - or up to 25 for those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
“This decision means we can now implement our plans to work more closely with health partners to reduce inequalities, integrating our children’s centre services, health visiting, community midwifery care and youth services, public health services under the Start for Life programme and placing support in communities where it is needed most by families across Kent, improving health and education outcomes for all. The needs of families and young people will be at the centre of how the Council will continue to develop the new Family Hub model.”
KCC’s Cabinet also considered the future provision of youth services in Kent, as existing contracts for the service are due to end at the end of March 2024.
A combination of services provided at Family Hubs for 0–19-year-olds (25 for SEND), as well as outreach community work, more information and advice online, will better enable young people to access support as and when they need it.
As provision is being delivered differently, the youth services contracts will not be renewed.
“It’s important for people in Kent to realise that it’s not all about a building; it’s about the support and services that are delivered to families in the right place and at the right time.”
The Council is currently facing significant budget challenges and, as part of the budget recovery plan, Securing Kent’s Future, all services are having to undertake a sweeping review of future spend, in particular where contracts are coming to an end.
The decision taken by Cabinet to reconfigure and co-locate many services means that 43 buildings will close across Kent over the next two years. This will save £1.27m against the property revenue budget and reduce the authority’s maintenance backlog by £5.85m.
However, Cabinet Members ruled out the proposed closure of two buildings, taking into account consultation responses and the fact that the journey on public transport to the nearest alternatives was more than the recommended 35 minutes.
KCC Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Traded Services, Peter Oakford, said: “It’s important for people in Kent to realise that it’s not all about a building; it’s about the support and services that are delivered to families in the right place and at the right time.
“It is no secret that KCC is facing very significant financial pressures and we cannot afford to maintain all of the buildings that we have, particularly those that are old and require many millions of pounds to repair and maintain. Some of the buildings that are now earmarked for closure were only used once or twice a week, and yet hugely expensive to both run and upkeep.
“The decision today to press on with this new Family Hub model of delivering services will mean that we can now use the best buildings possible, informed by a needs framework, to ensure that we target support in the areas of Kent where it is needed the most.”
As with any key decision there will be a period of call in and scrutiny where our decision makers can review the paperwork and challenge the content, should they wish to. This is a formal part of the governance in KCC.
Once agreed, the first few months of 2024 will be spent working with service teams to ensure the transition towards different buildings and a different service model is as smooth as possible for service users.
More on the buildings affected by the decision here: Community Services Consultation | Let’s talk Kent
Details about the Securing Kent’s Future plan can be found here: https://news.kent.gov.uk/articles/if-we-work-together,-we-can-do-it-tough-choices-ahead-as-kcc-sets-out-path-to-financial-recovery
The Securing Kent’s Future Cabinet paper from 5 October can be read here: https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s121235/Securing%20Kents%20Future%20-%20Budget%20Recovery%20Strategy.pdf