Parents’ anger at plans to scrap children’s centres

PROTEST Elyse Scott with parents and children outside The Haven.    Picture: Allan Hutchings (110572-085)
PROTEST Elyse Scott with parents and children outside The Haven. Picture: Allan Hutchings (110572-085)

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PARENTS are opposing plans to slash the number of children’s centres across Hampshire.

Hampshire County Council wants to reduce the number of 81 government-funded Sure Start centres to 53.

In Gosport and Fareham, this would see the current 12 centres cut to eight, while Havant’s nine centres would come down to six.

The council also wants to hand over all the centres – currently run either by schools, the council or independent organisations – to a single provider in each area.

Elyse Scott is a member of the Parent’s Forum at Bridgemary’s Haven Children’s Centre, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted.

Forum members have already collected more than 200 signatures objecting to the plans.

She said: ‘We’re angry about what we believe is a sham consultation which will lead to fewer centres, a reduction in services in some of the most deprived areas and bulk management by third-party contractors – all of which would be detrimental to the quality of Haven and its services.

‘The biggest threat is that we will no longer be managed by the nursery school (The Hive), which we work so closely with and is fantastic. The council wants third parties to put tenders in but we don’t know who they will be.

‘The schools and groups that run the centres now have been given no time to prepare bids, and many couldn’t manage a cluster of eight, which rules them out in spite of doing an excellent job.’

Mrs Scott, says the council consultation as just ‘a tick box exercise’, is encouraging people to attend meetings and campaign against the plans.

The centres are funded through government’s Sure Start programme worth £16.9m.

The plans would save £6m which would be given to other early years schemes.

Those to merge and remain

East Hampshire (5 to 4)

• Centres to be merged:

Hillside/Treetops

• Centres to remain:

Bushy Leaze, Chase, and Heath.

Fareham and Gosport (12 to 8)

• Centres to be merged:

Oak Meadow/Merry-Go-Round; Sovereign/Strawberry; Meadow Haselbridge/Little Waves;

Sure Start Rowner/Stubblee Hill

• Centres to remain:

Keepsake, Merryfields, The Tree House, Haven.

Havant (9 to 6)

• Centres to be merged:

Park Futures/Sharps Copse; Orchard/Starfish

Mill Hill and Small Steps/Crookhorn Lane

• Centres to remain:

Links, Branches, Trospacc.

County councillor adds her voice to concerns

ANN Buckley, county councillor for Bedhampton and Leigh Park, has added her voice to concerns.

She is worried that plans to hand over the centres in each ‘cluster’ area – such as Havant – to a third party provider would lead to a drop in quality at the centres.

She said: ‘The speed this is moving it is worrying me and looking at the consultation and the impenetrable document that is going out, a lot of people won’t participate.

‘If there was more time, there is a possibility current employees could set up a not-for-profit scheme and continue to run the centres, which they do excellently. But with little to no time, and the council’s insistence of a single management to run all the centres, there is a real danger we will lose the personal touch.’

Cllr Roy Perry, who is in charge of children’s services at the county council, said: ‘The proposal to manage centres in clusters is designed to achieve economies of scale, streamlining management and backroom support functions to ensure they operate cost effectively and efficiently.

‘Under the proposals children’s centres will continue to be sensitive to community needs and offer services in response to those needs.’

He said anyone who does not understand the proposals could phone 01962 847 651 to speak to someone.

The consultation, which ends on March 14, can be viewed on the council’s website at consultations.hants.gov.uk/active.aspx