Council responds to family hub consultation

Published: 8 September 2023

A photograph of an empty council chamber in Folkestone, with seats and benches in focus.

Folkestone & Hythe District Council has expressed concerns over plans to design new family hub services and remove funding for local youth clubs in Kent.

Kent County Council is seeking views on the proposals, with the consultation due to close on Wednesday 13 September.

Cllr Mike Blakemore, Cabinet Member for Community and Collaboration, has written about the impact of stopping funding to existing services such as Shepway Autism Support Group and Salus Youth Services, as well as the risk of losing in-person provision.

The full letter can be read below. More information about the proposals can be found on Kent County Council’s website, where you can also share your views.

Letter sent to Kent County Council by Cllr Mike Blakemore, Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s Cabinet Member for Community and Collaboration:

I write on behalf of Folkestone & Hythe District Council with regards to the Family Hub proposals which are currently out for public consultation and to which the Council will, in due course, submit a full response.

The opportunity to provide an improved and more effective service for residents through the new family hub model is in principle a positive step, as is the proposal from KCC to extend the basic model put forward by Government to include a joined-up focus on youth work. Whilst we welcome the national push towards increased focus on early years, and the need to work more closely with partners to deliver this, we agree that the youth age group is of equal importance if an holistic approach to service delivery is to succeed.

I would however like to draw your attention to a number of significant concerns in relation to the family hub proposals that have been raised by F&HDC members and residents.

1) Impacts of Closing Existing Services

Where KCC propose to stop funding youth provision run by non-KCC organisations, unless these organisations can find alternative finance they will have to close. How much support is being given to these groups to achieve alternative funding, which they would need to do on an ongoing basis? It is estimated that loss of support to groups such as Shepway Autism Support Group or Salus Youth Services will result in a £105k saving to KCC across Folkestone & Hythe. Whilst accepting that there may be KCC led provision that can provide alternative support, it is not clear what this will be and how the service might improve on the existing, high-performing model? We are concerned not only at the risk to the quality of services and loss of existing expertise but also on the far-reaching impact on local communities. Should these groups cease to exist there will be a gap in local community infrastructure which will be difficult to rebuild and may have negative impacts much wider than youth services. This will be a false economy.

2) Funding

The current annual cost of children’s centres and youth hubs is £11.5m (excluding building costs). The estimated cost of the family hub service is £9.1m, giving a saving of £2.4m. KCC will receive a government grant to support delivery of the new model, totalling £11m over three years. This is in addition to the savings of circa £4 million cited in the community services consultation. We ask that there is full transparency in the allocation of funding across the family hub model (and community services review) and that full consideration is given to safeguarding non KCC led provision as outlined in point one above.

3) Digital / Online Services

The move to provide a range of services and support in digital form online is, on the face of it, a good approach which may help improve outreach to many young people. It is unclear through what level of research has underpinned this proposal and if it will replace in-person services? Equality of access to support should not be diminished through an increase in online provision. How will KCC ensure that the young people and families are not disadvantaged due to lack of connectivity or digital skills?

4) Accessible Services

Accessibility of services, particularly but not exclusively across the district’s more rural areas, raises concern for residents. If the location of services is changed as result of co-location it is essential to ensure challenges which are presented by the currently diminishing public transport network are taken into account. This is particularly acute for young people with learning difficulties and their carers, for example.

5) Local Co-production

The opportunity to co-produce the local elements of the family hub model is welcomed. We firmly believe that bespoke solutions based on local knowledge, and taking into account what can be very important local nuances, will result in the best and most sustainable outcomes. However, we are interested to understand if this co-production would continue into a meaningful role to evaluate the success of the new model and the ability for the Council and service users to suggest changes should there be a need to do so in the future?

I trust that you will recognise that there is growing concern across Folkestone and Hythe in relation to the changes proposed and that the points outlined above will be given full consideration.