Children’s Centre Consultation - FAQs

What happened before this consultation? And what other work has been done by the Council to ensure families in Hackney have access to the early years provisions they need?

The proposed changes look at reshaping services in line with the Early Years Strategy for 2021-2026, which set out the vision, priorities and principles that underpin the work we do and the services we provide for young children and their families.

The Council previously consulted on proposals to close two children’s centres in the north of the borough in 2021. During the 2021 consultation, parents asked the Council to consider inviting alternative providers to take over management of children’s centres before proposing to close centres. This request from parents has shaped our current proposals. The 2021 consultation was paused to allow wider public engagement into the provision of childcare. 

Since the 2021 consultation, additional challenges have affected the sustainability of early years provision in the borough: the financial deficit has increased further, there is a national shortage of staff, families are increasingly seeking to use their funded 15 and 30 hours and therefore less likely to require full time places for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. A number of families have also declared a negative change in their income status which means that they now have a reduction in the fees they pay which amounts to a reduction in income for the Centre.

The Council already took a number of steps towards shaping the future of the early years provision in Hackney, which included:

  • Establishing an independent Commission into Affordable Childcare, to explore how to achieve better access to affordable high quality early years provision in Hackney. The Commission brought together parents and carers, childcare providers, and other members of the local communities, who looked at local childcare provision, challenges, risks, and costs, as well as ways to maximise the support available for families in the borough. Read the Commission's report; its findings have been considered in the development of the current proposals
  • Developing four Children & Family Hubs in the borough, offering integrated family support services to meet families’ social care, education, mental and physical health needs. As part of this work, the Council was selected to receive £3.9m funding over 3 years from the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care for a Start for Life programme, which focuses on supporting the first 1001 days of a child’s life, from conception to age two. The process of designating the Children & Family Hubs followed a consultation in the summer of 2023
  • Commissioning the Ernst & Young independent review of Children’s Centres. The findings of this review have informed these proposals

Why did the EY review only include 11 children’s centres?

The purpose of the EY review was to find how childcare is delivered today and to propose changes that can be made by the Council to make the service more efficient, financially sustainable and fit for purpose, while ensuring it remains accessible to all families across Hackney, including children in need and children with special educational needs. The review also explored the impact of the proposed national government reform of the funded early years entitlement.

The 11 children’s centres included in the review are currently funded by the Council to subsidise the cost of childcare, making it more affordable for parents who are able to access these nurseries. This means that, no matter their household income, all parents of children who attend them receive subsidised childcare.

The review did not include children’s centre nurseries that are not funded by the Council and do not offer subsidised childcare (Morningside, Gainsborough, Minik Kardes, Ihsan, Daubeney, Comet Nursery School and Wentworth Nursery School).

Why is there a need for a £4m budget cut to the Early Years services? How does this fit in with other proposed Council budget cuts? 

There is currently a £1.07m budget deficit across the children’s centres, from a reduction in nursery fees in the last few years, and increased operational cost. This deficit is likely to increase if we do not make changes now. 

The Council’s medium term financial plans have identified £57m in savings required across the council by 2026/2027. Out of these, £4m are to be delivered by the early years service over the next 3 years: £1.1m in savings in 2024/25, a further £1m in 2025/26 and further savings of up to £1.9m in 2026/27.

The current provision is not sustainable in its current form and needs to be reformed to make efficient use of the resources.

Why are you proposing to potentially close two centres? 

Changes to the children’s centres inclusive of the options to close will remove surplus places to achieve fuller occupancy and sustainability of the remaining children’s centres. The timing of the changes coincides with key transition points to school and nursery classes in schools.

Are there any other changes that the Council is considering to reduce costs?

In addition to the proposed restructuring, the Council will consider opportunities to:

  • reduce the use of agency staff, therefore providing better value for money and improving the consistency of care
  • facilitate more efficient and effective building maintenance, by streamlining costs
  • improve budget management and governance with improved systems 
  • target the use of Council childcare subsidy to support low income, disadvantaged and vulnerable children to access provision at children’s centres

Why are you reducing the subsidy for Hackney families? 

The Council subsidy to working parents will be replaced by the expanded 15 hours funded early years entitlement to 2 year olds in working households from April 2024, and babies 9 months in working households from September 2024. Council subsidy will be further reduced to all children from 9 months old in working households eligible for 30 hours from September 2025. We are awaiting further information from the government about the expanded early years entitlement to inform any future changes to the fee structure.   

We are not consulting on changes to fees, and we are not proposing to change the current fee structure. Parents will be notified of any changes to fees in March for September implementation.  

Will subsidised childcare still be available for any families? How will vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families be supported?

Children in need of support on a child in need, child protection or early help plan will continue to be assessed and supported to access provision through the existing family support arrangements.  

Where can I find out more about the legislation applicable to children’s centres childcare?

Childcare Act 2006 and Sure Start children's centres statutory guidance - GOV.UK.

When would the changes come into effect? 

At the end of the consultation an outcomes report will be made available to the public. The findings and any amendments to the proposals following consultation will be presented to Cabinet in the Summer at the earliest, with staggered implementation of the reorganised childcare service.

The national expansion of the funded early years entitlement will commence April 2024 until September 2025, at which point the current childcare subsidy will begin to be reduced and replaced by the funded early years entitlement.

Scoping of the additional resourced provision (ARP) has commenced as part of the SEND and Early Years strategies, working towards transition to the new service from September 2024 to full implementation by September 2025.

Oldhill restructuring would take effect at the earliest from September 2024, with full implementation by September 2025.  

The tender process for Sebright and Fernbank Children’s Centres would commence after the Cabinet decision in the Summer, with the intention to appoint a new provider Autumn 2024. If an alternative provider can not be found, staff consultation would commence in line with the proposal to close the centres by August 2025. 

Were any alternative proposals considered? Why were alternative options not considered to be viable?

Most options to reduce inefficiencies set out in the EY independent review are under consideration. The Council will explore options to consider bank staff in contrast to the current arrangements for recruiting temporary agency staff in order to reduce staffing. We will also explore options for building maintenance, and improve budget management costs as part of our business continuity. Some of these considerations were also included in the recommendations from the Commission into Affordable Childcare, which noted the importance of improving operational processes, and reviewing staffing arrangements to achieve greater flexibility. 

The Commission also suggested reviewing our current commitment to qualified staff. Whilst having unqualified staff would reduce staffing cost, it could impact the quality of the teaching and learning which underpins children’s outcomes. The Effective Provision of Preschool Education study found that children make greater progress when cared for in settings that have staff with higher qualifications. The Council is committed to supporting apprenticeships. 

The option to significantly increase fees to recover a greater portion of costs may discourage families from accessing the children’s centre provision if implemented, and therefore have a negative impact on occupancy at all remaining centres. The provision may also become affordable to higher income families at the exclusion of lower income families. For this reason this option is not being acted on. Annual increases to childcare fees will continue to be subject to inflation.

The Commission into Affordable Childcare report noted that the children’s centres were cheaper than other private, voluntary and independent provision, thereby potentially putting these settings at risk of unsustainability. 

The independent review of children’s centres included estimated income from the expanded funded early years entitlement. The modelling suggests that the Council could receive an extra £1.6m for 2 year olds in April 2024, and a further £2m in September 2024 for children from 9 months old. Funding for future years is unknown and may reduce after the expansion has been rolled out 2025/26. 

Our current hourly rate for the funded early years entitlement is lower than neighbouring boroughs, and does not at present cover the full cost of running the service. The estimated income is also dependent on centres being 100% occupied which has not been achievable for most centres in the past. Any additional income will need to take account of the current deficit, and we will need to address the challenges in delivering child care such as the national shortage of nursery staff, escalating utility, food and service costs, and business rates.

Removing surplus places from the children’s centres should support the sustainability of the remaining children’s centres and the wider sector.   

How will staff affected by the proposals be supported? Is there a risk of redundancy?

We know the proposed changes may have a significant impact on some staff, and that this will be disappointing news. 

Staff who are affected by any changes will be supported by our human resources team and will have the opportunity for redeployment into vacant positions, where these exist, in other Council-run centres; they will have access to the Council’s full redeployment list; or, separately, they can apply for roles in centres and nurseries across the borough, where they exist. 

The Council will continue to work closely with Unions in assessing the full impact on staff.

Any potential redeployment opportunities into other children’s centres, should these proposals be implemented, will take place when the proposed changes take effect.

Will families at risk of losing their childcare place be supported to find alternative provision?

We recognise the impact of these proposals on children and their families and we are committed to supporting families through the process as much as possible.  

Each centre will be allocated an officer to work closely with them to identify the needs of parents and carers, identify vacant places and broker a place at an alternative setting.  

If the proposals are approved, will there be sufficient provision for children aged 0-4?

Hackney is currently working with schools, settings and the government to complete early years expansion surveys to assess supply and demand. We know that there are sufficient places for children to take up their funded entitlement from April, and will continue to monitor places before we proceed with the proposed changes.  

How many places in children’s centres are surplus? 

The children’s centres maintain an average 88% occupancy, with some centres such as Ann Tayler, Clapton Park, Lubavitch and Mapledene maintaining 95-101% occupancy.  

5 centres were identified by the EY review as operating below the average 88% occupancy: Oldhill, Fernbank, Hillside, Sebright, and Woodberry Down.

Graph shows the average occupancy of children's centres in 2022/23

What are the projected birth rates in Hackney? 

Births have fallen from 4,377 in 2014 to 3,482 in 2022. The under fives population has fallen from 20,375 children in 2018 to 18,840 children 2022/23, and is projected to further reduce to 18,389 between 2026/27 and 2030/31. 

How can I share my views on the proposals?

You can share your views by completing the online survey.

Paper surveys are available at children's centres. The consultation will close on 24 April 2024, 11:59pm.

How will the consultation responses influence the decision? 

We welcome all views and comments on the consultation proposals. No decision will be made until after the consultation has closed. 

The responses to the consultation will be taken into consideration, analysed, reported and shared publicly. The final decision on the proposals will be made by the Cabinet in Summer 2024.

What are the proposed timelines? 

Please note that these timelines may be subject to change.

Date Event
31 January to 24 April 2024 12 week consultation.
Summer 2024 The consultation report will be published.
Feedback on the consultation will be considered by Cabinet.
April to September The national expansion of the funded early years entitlement will begin.
At this point, the current childcare subsidy would be reduced and replaced by the funded early years entitlement.
Summer 2024 Begin tender process for Sebright and Fernbank Children’s Centres, after Cabinet decision.
Autumn 2024 Appointment of a new provider, if found.
If unable to find an alternative provider, staff consultation on proposals to close the centre (s) would begin.
Summer 2025 Close centre(s).
September 2024 to September 2025 Restructure Hillside to form an ARP, working towards transition to the new service from September 2024 to full implementation by September 2025.
Restructure of Oldhill Children’s centre, with full implementation by September 2025.

Updated April 2024

How might looked-after children be affected by the children’s centre proposals?

There are currently 66 looked after children, 23% reside in Hackney, 77% reside out of the borough. Those residing in the borough currently access nursery places at school nurseries and in private nurseries. None are currently accessing children’s centre nurseries, though foster carers attend children’s centres activities and services.  Support will continue to be available for this cohort of children in provision of their choice.

Why can’t the Council use its reserves to support children’s centre childcare?

The Council holds a General Fund balance and a range of earmarked reserves for different purposes. The General Fund balance is the absolute last line of defence and a requirement to utilise this reserve would indicate severe financial difficulty. Earmarked reserves are held against specific risks and specific projects, the latter assist us in managing our finances  in areas of volatility, for example, children’s placement costs and energy.

Reserves are of a one-off nature, once they are gone, they are gone, and it is not sustainable to use them for ongoing expenditure such as suggested by the question. This is particularly important at a time of uncertainty in terms of Government funding and increased demands for our statutory services. The Council's Audit Committee undertook a deep dive into the Council's reserves and a copy of the resulting report is available on the Council's website.

Further information

More details about the proposals can be found in the consultation document published on the Council’s consultation page and in the report that informed Cabinet’s decision to consult on these proposals. You can also find answers to some of the frequently asked questions for each of the four children’s centres in scope below:

This page was last modified on: 12 Apr 2024