Mothers and concerned residents who descended on Winchester yesterday to protest the potential closures of Hampshire’s Sure Start Childrens’ Centres received an apology from the leader of the County Council.
A colourful cavalcade of over 100 buggy pushing Mums who marched from the Broadway to the Castle to present a petition with over 12,000 signatures heard Ken Thornber say of the consultation period:
“We’re sorry it was so rushed…but we were not in control of the situation.”
The conservative group leader went on to offer the crowd an additional month’s consultation which he claimed would cost the council a further half a million pounds.
He also attempted to ease concerns by saying, “we don’t want to close a centre” – although no promises of a turn-around were made.
With the issue far from dealt with, one of the organisers Kate Reynolds stated “What’s going to be key is how that month is used.” Speaking on behalf of the protesters she claimed “We’re happy” and “It’s really good they’re listening.”
Saving money to bridge a £6 million funding gap is the motive for the planned reductions in centres and staff, but the reasons against it are strong and emotive.
The council plans to save money by outsourcing and streamlining management.
In the Eastleigh area there are currently eight centres, but the proposals recommend that centres in West End, Botley and Hedge End should share management.
Protestors say that rationalisation could lead to the loss of jobs and services and the children affected could be disadvantaged compared to those who can be sent to private day care or stay at home with family.
The centres provide free advice and childcare to those who want it, with the aim being to improve equality of opportunity from a young age. However, with the pressures of the government’s public spending cuts looming, Hampshire’s Sure Start centres have been flagged as potential targets.
With other cuts planned for the benefits system, it is also feared single mothers could be stuck between a rock and a hard place, a job or stay at home parenting.
However, due to the severity of the national deficit, are there any alternatives for Hampshire?
Local Socialist party member Nick Chaffey was quick to point out that:
“Hampshire County Council have got reserves currently of £130 million. One has to ask why these cuts are necessary now, if they have got the money in the bank?”
Photo: Ben Hatton