CONCERNS have been raised over a bid to reform the management of children’s centres to help plug an estimated £16m gap in the budget for 2013/14.

The Conservative administration proposes to group 14 children’s centres into four clusters and join up the management arrangements to reduce staffing costs.

The council says the scheme has been successful in other areas and the move in Swindon would save £190,000 during the financial year if implemented in September, and £380,000 annually thereafter.

However the idea has drawn criticism from Dr Nick Capstick, an executive headteacher with the White Horse Federation, which runs the Drove Children’s Centre, Northampton Street, and the Moredon Children’s Centre, in Montrose Close.

Dr Capstick said: “The overwhelming majority of children’s centre heads of service do not believe the proposal as formulated is ethically or financially viable, nor that it will meet their objectives of delivering the social benefits children’s centres currently achieve with the most vulnerable families in Swindon.”

He said the model might work in other areas but the demographics of Swindon brought a great deal of anomalies. But he said teachers were willing to meet with the council to help make savings in a different way.

He said: “What we’re willing to do is work with Swindon Council to find these savings but maintaining these services. Clustering doesn’t work for us.”

Coun David Renard, cabinet member for children’s services, said the council had listened concerns so the original proposal was now “half-on-half-off the table”, providing teachers come up with a suitable alternative.

Council chief Rod Bluh said: “The proposals draw on the experience of other local authorities [including Wiltshire] who have reduced management costs by developing clusters of children’s centres and thereby reduce the impact on frontline delivery.

“The Children’s Society confirmed they were involved in discussions with local authorities on clustering arrangements and are already sharing staff among the four centres they are managing in Swindon.

“It is the role of the council’s officers and the relevant cabinet member to continue discussions about these proposals as part of the consultation process so that the 2013/14 budget delivers the savings needed while preserving the desired outcomes.”

Rochelle Russell, the Labour group’s shadow lead for children’s services, said: “The Labour group is supportive of trying to find savings from management in children’s centres costs if it doesn’t affect frontline service.

“However the Conservative administration has developed a system where we have many different providers of Swindon’s 14 Children Centres.

So the Labour Group doesn’t understand how the Conservatives are going to get these different organisations to share their managers – and it appears children’s centre providers share the same confusion.”