Parents’ dismay as Sure Start cuts given approval

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PARENTS have spoken of their dismay after losing a battle to stop millions of pounds being taken from children’s centres.

Young mums and union members gathered outside Hampshire County Council’s Winchester headquarters yesterday to demonstrate against plans to take £6m from the county’s Sure Start centres.

But their songs and banners couldn’t stop Councillor Roy Perry, Hampshire County Council’s leader for children’s services, agreeing to make the cut from the centres’ £17m budget.

And though Cllr Perry promised no centres would be closed down, the parents believe his decision will impact on the lives of young people and parents across the county.

Mum-of-two Kate Reynolds is one of the leaders of Save Our Children’s Centres.

She said: ‘I can’t believe it. I’m devastated. The centres are vital. I got involved in the campaign because I believed people could make a difference.

‘I’ve lost all faith in the system we live in.’

The county council’s children’s services department must save £18m by April 1, 2012.

Its Sure Start plans will see managerial mergers reduce the number of centres from 81 to 54, though no buildings will close.

Thirty-five managers and 30 back office roles will be cut, saving £3m.

In the longer term, centres’ management will be taken over by charities, volunteer groups and the private sector.

Cllr Perry said: ‘Being a parent is the most important and difficult job in the world today.

‘I also know these centres help parents and children and this is why none will be closed, but we must reduce our budgets. Every centre will be open to vulnerable people.’

Locks Heath mum Becci Frost only discovered her three-year-old son Zac was autistic as a result of attending her Sure Start centre.

She said: ‘The centres save families and save lives.

‘I was bringing up a boy who hated me and they helped me learn why, that it wasn’t my fault, and how to improve things.

‘Vulnerability for parents isn’t just about social class.

‘The centres are vital, and the staff are what makes them important.’