Lib Dems demand a rethink over Sure Start cuts

Cllr Roy Perry
Cllr Roy Perry
Forest School Leaders Dawn White and Sue Evans with their pupils outside the school

Picture: Habibur Rahman (180146-338)

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HAMPSHIRE councillors have demanded a rethink over plans to restructure Sure Start centres.

Five Lib Dems have called for a face-to-face meeting with Tory county council education boss, Cllr Roy Perry over the controversial issue.

He has already given the go-ahead to cut the Sure Start budget by £6m.

Plans include merging centres as well as allocating a single manager for groups which had previously been run individually by schools, charities or the council.

Councillors will confront Cllr Perry at 2pm next Tuesday to urge him to look again at the decision.

If he refuses, they will ask for a ‘pilot run’ trial period to identify any glitches before it is too late.

Lib Dem Cllr Jackie Porter, who is leading the calls for reform, said: ‘We have major concerns with the current plans and hope Cllr Perry will listen. If the worst comes to the worst and nothing changes, we want a three-month pilot.

‘Children’s centres are too important to allow drastic reforms to be rushed through. They are invaluable to so many families and provide a fantastic service.

‘I’m determined it remains that way.’

The Lib Dems argue school-based sites should be left alone and that charity-based centres should not merge with county-run ones.

Catherine Ovenden, co-founder of Save Our Children’s Centres, welcomed the news.

She added: ‘We thought that all hope was lost and we were relying on our legal challenge to reverse the decision, but now it feels our message may finally be getting through.’

Cllr Perry said he would consider the points but warned the councillors were playing ‘a political game’ as the children and young people select committee – which the five Lib Dems sit on – had not made any objections previously.

He added: ‘Our proposals ensure we keep very good provision for young families but trying to do so with less administrative costs.’

The public meeting will be held at the council’s headquarters where SOCC campaigners are due to stage a protest.

It will take place before the children and young people select committee meeting.