Mums and children deliver petition to save Sure Start

Parents march through Winchester to deliver 22,000-strong petition to Hampshire County Council to oppose proposals to merge Sure Start centres.
Parents march through Winchester to deliver 22,000-strong petition to Hampshire County Council to oppose proposals to merge Sure Start centres.

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DOZENS of mums and their children marched through Winchester to deliver a 22,000-strong petition opposing plans to merge children’s centres across Hampshire.

Chanting ‘no ifs, no buts, no Sure Start cuts’, they walked along the high street to the doorstep of the council’s headquarters to hand the petitions to children’s centre services manager Janet Hoff.

Parents fear proposals to cut the number of centres from 81 to 53 through mergers, and for single providers to manage large clusters of centres to save £6m a year could destroy Sure Start as they know it.

Becci Frost, 24, who uses the Oak Meadow centre in Fareham, which is up for a proposed merger, said: ‘I’m ecstatic we’ve got this far.

‘The size of the petition shows just how strongly people feel about this issue.’

Miss Frost has applied to make a deputation at an extraordinary meeting called by Lib Dem councillors on April 26 to discuss the proposals.

She will also be one of six mums handing the petition to Downing Street on Monday when they will call on PM David Cameron to ring-fence Sure Start budgets.

Kirsty Aksoy-Gell, 36, a member of the Stubblee-Hill centre in Lee-on-the-Solent, also up for a merger, said: ‘I want parents to be heard.

‘It’s so infuriating to know the money is there, but you are not getting it. I hope this gets across how much this means to people.’

Cllr Roy Perry, Hampshire’s executive lead member for children’s centres, said the number of signatories represented a tiny percentage of the population, and that the mums’ campaign was misrepresenting the proposals.

He said: ‘Our proposals outline a model that will cut £6m each year in bureaucracy and not front line services.’

Cllr Perry admitted the council could not guarantee the future of the sites, but insisted any contracts drawn up for future managers would demand all the areas would continue to be served.

He added: ‘My mind’s not made up.

‘If someone can come up with an alternative model that would make the same savings and retain the current management structure I would welcome that.’