Councillors join forces to fight Sure Start mergers

ACTION Parents, staff and children from Sure Start release balloons as part of their ongoing campaign against planned cuts for the centre.     Picture: Ian Hargreaves (111213-1)
ACTION Parents, staff and children from Sure Start release balloons as part of their ongoing campaign against planned cuts for the centre. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (111213-1)
Mad Kid's Bedroom Wall Pot. Picture: Todd-White Art Photography

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SIX councillors have written to the chairwoman of Hampshire County Council demanding an extraordinary meeting to discuss proposals to merge children’s centres.

One independent and five Lib Dem politicians have sent letters to Cllr Carol Leversha calling for a full council meeting to raise concerns about plans for the centres.

The council proposes to cut the number of centres from 81 to 53 and tender out large clusters of centres to a single provider.

Ann Buckley, who represents Bedhampton and Leigh Park, said: ‘There are flaws in the consultation and outstanding issues that need to be discussed.

‘My constituents haven’t had an opportunity to ask questions at a public meeting.

‘There are concerns about plans to merge Park Futures and Sharps Copse which would change the catchment area and leave many Leigh Park parents being expected to go elsewhere.

‘I worry about the implications of the mergers, and how managers have been given no time to come up with their own solution to cost-cutting instead of factoring them out by tendering large clusters to single providers.’

The other councillors who have put pen to paper are Chris Thomas (Eastleigh), Brian Collin (Winchester), Alan Weeks (Totton), Jenny Radley (independent for Church Crookham) and Sam Darragh (East Hants).

Elyse Scott, who organised a balloon release at The Haven centre in Gosport this week to raise awareness of the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign, welcomed the councillors’ actions.

She said: ‘The idea of a single provider for several centres doesn’t make any sense.

‘Each centre has its own unique quality which is invaluable to the communities they serve – we want them to stay that way.’

Cllr Thomas, who has led calls for the executive meeting, said: ‘It’s time for the fog to be lifted and the views of the public to be heard. I hope the county listens.’

In a statement, Hampshire County Council said it would be responding to the councillors who have called for the meeting.

Meanwhile, Hampshire council leader Ken Thornber has cancelled a scheduled meeting with mum Becci Frost, 24, who uses the Oak Meadow centre, citing a legal challenge against the county as the reason.

Vickie Taylor, 30, a volunteer at Rowner, in Gosport, has enlisted solicitors to threaten the council with High Court action if it doesn’t withdraw the consultation.