Rally outside Portsmouth Guildhall against proposals to reduce Sure Start centres

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MUMS gathered in Guildhall Square today to protest against plans to close children’s centres in the city.

Chanting if you’re angry and you know it clap your hands, dozens of mums protested against plans to cut children’s centres in Portsmouth.

PROTEST Mums gather in Guildhall Square to demonstrate

PROTEST Mums gather in Guildhall Square to demonstrate

Despite the cold weather and snowfall, around 40 stood on the steps outside the Guildhall to make sure their voices are heard.

As previously reported, Portsmouth City Council has revealed proposals to merge Sure Start centres in an attempt to make a saving of around £1m during 2013/14.

The plans include merging 16 centres to bring the total in the city down to nine.

Mum Rosy Bremer, 41, of Fratton, takes her two-year-old daughter Sakina Yousef to various Sure Start centres in the city.

She said: ‘I’m here because I’m sad and angry that the brunt of the financial crisis is born by the most vulnerable in our society, namely the elderly, the disabled and these children who are the future of our society.

‘Sure Start Centres are great, it’s a chance to go somewhere that is safe, friendly and gain new skills which is worthwhile for children and parents.’

Mums have been singing children’s nursery rhymes outside the civic offices.

A public consultation is set to close on Wednesday , after that the council will look through responses and make a decision in April or May.

Lisa Fletcher, who organised the rally, said she and other campaigners felt the plans were a done deal because requests to move consultation meetings weren’t heeded.

She claimed they were scheduled for afternoons when parents would often be busy collecting their children from school or nursery.

The council said it had no record of a request.

Mother-of-three Lisa, 37, of Fyning Street, Landport, said: ‘We’re disgusted at the way the children’s centres are being cut.

‘I was pleased by the turnout, but many didn’t come because they felt there was no point as it is a done deal.

‘Many parents also contacted the city council to see if some consultation dates could be moved, as they clashed with school pick up times. But this was declined.’

Catherine Kickham, the council’s early support commissioning manager, said: ‘We’re sorry if some of the drop-in sessions were unsuitable for some people, but about 200 people did attend overall, and hundreds more have responded to our questionnaire.’

She denied that a final decision had already been made, saying: ‘The consultation is to find out what residents want us to do with the limited resources we have.’

She added that consultation meetings had been held at various times of the day from early morning to late evening with only a minority around school pick-up time.

‘We picked a variety of meeting times to appeal to as many people as possible, and many people found it was convenient to pop in near school pick-up time’ she said.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education, said that he has spoken to parents and urges as many people as possible to take part in the consultation.

He said: ‘Overall we’re seeing an increase in funding for very young children in Portsmouth.

‘But the government has moved money away from children centres, towards providing more day-care places for two-year-olds.

‘And all parts of the council have to deal with the government’s challenge to make savings.

‘We believe in children’s centres and know they’re important, but services have to be good value for money.

‘We have to concentrate on services, not buildings, and the families who will benefit most from support.

‘We want people to tell us their views and are listening carefully to what they say.’

Under the plans, mergers include Portsdown Area children’s centre with Drayton and Farlington, Northern Parade with Stamshaw, and North End children’s centre with Willows.

Also to be consulted on are the merger of Milton Park with the Cumberland and Baffins centres, the combination of Southsea with Brambles, and a merger of the Portsea and Somerstown centres.

The council proposes Paulsgrove, Fratton, and Buckland and Landport children’s centre services will remain as they are.

To find out more, pick up a leaflet from a Sure Start centre, email childrenscentres@portsmouthcc.gov.uk or call (023) 9268 8570.