Home-Start St Albans closure ratified by county councillors

Home Start supporters outside County Hall

Home Start supporters outside County Hall - Credit: Archant

Scrapping of a city centre family support charity by the withdrawal of its funding was ratified by county councillors this week.

Home-Start St Albans, like its counterparts elsewhere in Herts, in unlikely to be able continue after the county council cabinet voted uananimously on Monday not to renew the annual funding of just under £400,000 for the home visiting service.

A further cut of £206,000 in funding from the county’s clinical commissioning groups means there will a reduction totalling just under £600,000 in money made available to Home-Start.

The county council’s view is that an increase in the services offered by its children’s centres means that they can provide sufficient support to families without the need for Home-Start.

In St Albans the charity currently helps over 100 families and has five members of staff and 55 volunteers based at its Spencer Street office.

When news of the demise of the funding arose late last month, scheme manager Suzy Moody said: “I think the way it has been done has been pretty atrocious and other children’s centres in the area just don’t have the capacity to pick things up.

“Our focus is on intensive intervention by visiting families two or three hours each week and no other statutory service or otherwise is able to support people in the same way.”

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A report to the county cabinet on Monday admitted that the service was popular with those who used it, particularly in its ability to help hard-to-reach families.

But it was felt that the need for home servicing had changed and children’s centres should now be able to support families in need..

Lib Dem opposition councillors pointed out that while the contracted number of families supported by Home-start across the county was 395, the actual figure was over 1,100.

They argued that if children’s centre were to carry out a fraction of the Home-Start work they would need extra funds and nothing had been budgeted for.

Lib Dem spokesman for children’s services, Cllr Mark Watkin, said: “The tragedy is that the county council has decimated an outstanding service.

“Cllr Richard Roberts [cabinet member for children’s services] has totally misrepresented the cost savings his decision will achieve and he has condemned these hard to reach families to a very bleak future. He has treated the dedicated managers and committed army of trained visitors with scant regard.”

He added: “What is unforgivable is that Home-Start knew that the county council wanted to reduce its expenditure and had prepared a business plan to achieve this but were never given the chance to present it.”