Last attempt to stop Hampshire County Council’s changes to Sure Start fails

Cllr Roy Perry
Cllr Roy Perry
From left, Elissa Curtis, LAET Brady and Mason Parker. Picture: PO Phot Nicola Harper

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A LAST-DITCH attempt to force Hampshire’s education boss to reconsider plans for a major reorganisation of children’s centres across the county has failed.

Five Lib Dem councillors on the children and young people select committee had ‘called in’ Cllr Roy Perry’s decision to merge Sure Start centres and have them managed in groups to make savings of £6m a year.

But at the meeting yesterday afternoon which heard testimonials from centre users and managers, their bid was voted against by nine votes to seven.

Cllr Jackie Porter, who demanded the decision be called in, told The News she would be contacting children’s minister Sarah Teather to appeal against Hampshire’s decision to cut the Sure Start budget by 35 per cent.

She said: ‘Today we represented the people of Hampshire and I am pleased we highlighted areas of concern.

‘But now I’m going to the children’s minister.’

Cllr Porter raised a number of points for discussion at the meeting, including the logic of imposing new managers on Sure Start centres based in community centres or run by schools, as well as the possibility of sub-commissioning good centres to run independently within the group management structure.

Director of children’s services John Coughlin welcomed sub-commissioning and said he would encourage schools to work together to make bids, but rejected Cllr Porter’s further calls for a pilot to test the new scheme.

Mums representing the Save Our Children’s Centres (SOCC) Hampshire campaign were disappointed with the result.

Kirsty Aksoy-Gell, 36, of the Stubblee-Hill centre in Lee-on-the-Solent, told the committee about her fears for a merger with Rowner which serves higher levels of deprivation and could take the lion’s share of funding.

She said: ‘They’re not listening. I can’t believe they refused a pilot when there is no proof their management structure works.’

Catherine Ovenden, SOCC co-founder, said the Tory councillors who voted against a rethink were ‘playing politics’.

She said: ‘The only good thing we can take away from this meeting is that not only will we be scrutinising the plans but so will councillors who were assured progress reports.’

For Cllr Perry, the meeting vindicated his May 27 decision.

He said: ‘I thought we had a very constructive meeting and a lot of good questions were answered, but nothing was said that we hadn’t explored before.

‘I have always had absolute faith in my director of children’s services and his team.’