Campaigners have been left dismayed as more than 40 Sure Start centres are under threat of closure – despite thousands of people signing a petition to support them.
Hampshire County Council has launched a 10-week consultation about its proposal, which will see the current 54 centres cut to just 11 district hubs.
The authority made the announcement earlier this week, saying that it will be ‘developing a new, single, integrated family support service that would bring together the work of early help hubs, children’s centre services and youth support services’.
The motion has been put forward in a bid to save the council £8.5m, in attempt to plug a £98m council funding shortfall by April 2017.
Councillor Keith Mans, executive lead member for children’s services, said: ‘The proposal to form a single, joined-up family support service would involve reshaping how early help support for families is delivered in the longer term, to ensure that those who do not meet the threshold for statutory social care continue to receive the support they need in the future.’
However the move has been criticised by campaigners who fought ferociously to keep the centres open when they were previously under threat in 2011, including running a campaign called Save Our Children’s Centres (SOCC) Hampshire culminating in a 22,000-strong petition being presented to Downing Street.
Catherine Ovenden, founder of SOCC Hampshire, said: ‘We always believed wholeheartedly in a Sure Start Centre in each community, with universal access for all families.
‘Any family can be in need. We believe that these cutbacks will overstretch the system further; creating bigger, more costly problems in the future.
‘We are very worried about this possibility and would urge families to attend a drop-in event in their district.’
The cutbacks – which will affect Fareham, Gosport, Winchester, the New Forest, Eastleigh and the Test Valley – could see about 60 per cent of staff lose their jobs.
For more information, and to respond to the consultation, visit hants.gov.uk/childrens-services-consultation.
The deadline for responses is midday on May 3.
Cllr Mans says he will consider the feedback from the consultation when making a decision on the proposal in July.