Portsmouth Tories in hot water over ‘thumbs up’ photo outside axed children’s centre

Conservative members have been criticised for giving a thumbs up outside the axed Southsea Children's Centre. L-R- Cllr Neill Young, Jim Fleming, Cllr Lee Mason, Cllr Linda Symes and Cllr Donna Jones
Conservative members have been criticised for giving a thumbs up outside the axed Southsea Children's Centre. L-R- Cllr Neill Young, Jim Fleming, Cllr Lee Mason, Cllr Linda Symes and Cllr Donna Jones
General manager Dave Livingstone.

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SENIOR Portsmouth Tories have been criticised for giving a thumbs-up in a photo – outside a children’s centre they’ve axed to protect the city council’s budget.

Tory members including council leader Donna Jones, children and education boss Neill Young and culture official Linda Symes had their picture taken while out campaigning in Southsea.

The Tories are either politically incompetent or they just don’t care, and I suspect it’s an element of both. It’s an absolute own goal.

Lib Dem councillor Lee Hunt

But they’ve been ridiculed for looking happy in a photo taken on the day outside Havelock Community Centre – the home of Southsea Children’s Centre until Cllr Young ruled its Ofsted-recognised programme would be taken away to save money last month.

Critics say the snap is a form of ‘gloating’ and pokes fun at families who relied on the centre for support.

But the Tories say the thumbs-up was nothing to do with the children’s centre and was a gesture marking a successful day promoting the party.

And they’ve accused opponents of being ‘paranoid’.

But Lib Dem Central Southsea councillor Lee Hunt said: ‘Well, they are not very bright then are they.

‘They have just closed the children’s centre and there they are stood outside it giving the thumbs-up.

‘It looks like they’ve made a right pigs ear of things. It looks to me like they are gloating, and I am very, very angry.

‘This doesn’t just affect my ward, it’s right across Southsea. Families rely on it.

‘Now the council has got rid of the paid staff and volunteers are being relied on to look after the building.

‘The Tories are either politically incompetent or they just don’t care, and I suspect it’s an element of both. It’s an absolute own goal.’

Cllr Young has agreed to strip the Portsdown, Drayton and Farlington Children’s Centre, North End and Willows Children’s Centre and Southsea and Brambles Children’s Centre of their children’s centre status, which means they will not be recognised by Ofsted.

The plan will save £205,000 from the council budget.

Addressing concerns over the photo, Cllr Young said: ‘We were out campaigning, we had a good response, so we put a thumbs-up. It wasn’t anything to do with the children’s centre, we happened to be outside, in the same way we have been outside all sorts of buildings over the last three months campaigning.

‘We wouldn’t gloat about something like that. I am appalled Cllr Hunt would think that. What we are doing is changing the way we are delivering the children’s centre service. There will still be some services out of the Havelock centre. There will just be a different way of providing it.

Cllr Symes said: ‘We wouldn’t gloat, we were out campaigning. There will still be activities happening there. Why on earth would we close it? It’s Lee Hunt’s paranoia I’m afraid.’