Care centre saved

NORTHERN Grampians Shire Council has agreed to continue its support of the Taylors Gully Children's Centre in Stawell.

Northern Grampians Shire Council has moved to remain as the service provider for children's services in Stawell and St Arnaud.

Northern Grampians Shire Council has moved to remain as the service provider for children's services in Stawell and St Arnaud.

Councillors voted unanimously at its meeting in Stawell on Monday night, in favour of remaining as the service provider for children's services, but implement a reduction in its subsidy in a bid to ease the financial burden on ratepayers.

The decision, made in front of a gallery of around 25 people, had followed the release of a report last week that cast some doubt over the future of both the Stawell and St Arnaud care centres.

The report contained several options for council to consider, which included an option of selling all children's services.

However, Cr Murray Emerson moved that council maintain its status as the service provider, but reduce the subsidy by $2,000 per child-care place in the 2014-15 financial year, with further gradual reductions being made in the following two years.

Cr Emerson took the opportunity to address the gallery about the difficulties council faces financially each year.

"Children's services provide a wonderful service for us, but the problem is the amount of money it costs Northern Grampians ratepayers," he said.

"This has been a very challenging time for councillors and staff and we've lost a heck of a lot of sleep over this.

"I believe the option we have chosen is the best option. It won't fix everything and we will find more difficulties along the way that will affect you people, but my motion is that we remain as the service providers and reduce the subsidy."

Cr Emerson also used the opportunity to hit out at a report in another regional newspaper, quoting that Taylors Gully Children's Centre will close.

"Despite what was quoted in the Wimmera Mail Times and attributed to Australian Services Union organiser Mark Brady, Taylors Gully is not closing," he said.

"I was very amazed at that quote and I know it's what unions do, but I want it known that I was very annoyed at that report.

"On the contrary, we are doing the very best we can do for everyone involved."

Mayor Cr Kevin Erwin said Council's children's services in Stawell and St Arnaud were currently subsidised by approximately $700,000 each year, or $10,000 per child-care place.

He said this simply could not continue.

"This is not a sustainable model and we can't expect the community to continue to incur the costs," he said.

Cr Erwin said national and state regulation changes, coupled with declining and variable birth rates, had elevated the

costs of childcare provision.

"This decision was not made lightly and it certainly wasn't easy," Cr Erwin said.

"As a Council we want to deliver services as effectively and efficiently as possible and ensure the best results

for our ratepayers.

"We investigated several different options, but it became clear that if we were going to improve the financial

sustainability of the shire we would need to reduce our subsidy of children's services."

Cr Erwin said all Council-provided services would be reviewed before the end of 2017.

"In our current Council Plan we made a commitment to examine all of our services, not just childcare," he said.

"We have a responsibility to ensure we are delivering best value services to our communities, and questioning

the way we currently do things is the most effective way of achieving this."

Cr Erwin said Council consulted with staff during the review and had kept parents and guardians informed of

the process.

"This option will provide local employment in Stawell and St Arnaud and ensure families continue to have

access to childcare, but it will mean changes and that's never easy," he said.

"Staff redeployment, and possibly redundancy, will still be necessary and we will need to make immediate

changes to payment arrangements.

"During this time we will continue to work in partnership with staff and families and assist them wherever

possible."

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