Mums behind the campaign to stop the merger of Sure Start children’s centres across Hampshire clearly believe passionately in their cause. But their determination to keep fighting has come at a price.
Those behind the Save Our Children’s Centres group have run up a debt of almost £3,000. Joint founder Catherine Ovenden has just £49 left on her credit card after spending £2,000 on coach trips, printing, phone calls and other expenses.
We don’t expect that every group campaigning against something should be funded by the public purse. But it does seem harsh that the SOCC members have had to put themselves in so much debt to fight Hampshire County Council, which has access to much greater resources.
Of course this isn’t a battle fought in the courts. But it does bring to mind the system of legal aid, which helps those who otherwise would not be able to afford the costs of expert representation. Is it realistic to have a system whereby a central fund existed and campaigners who met certain criteria could apply for assistance in meeting the costs of making their case?
As it stands, the SOCC members are at a considerable disadvantage as they take on the might of the county council. Money has had to come from their own pockets for expenses such as a £500 coach trip to 10 Downing Street to deliver a 22,000-strong petition opposing plans to merge 81 Sure Start centres to create 53 overall and save £6m.
As campaigners await the findings of a county council consultation on the issue due to be published tomorrow, they say that their cause is more important than money.
But their debts still have to be paid and they are pinning their hopes on getting enough people to vote for them so they win the Co-Operative’s Community Fund worth £5,000.
We hope that people take the trouble to go online and register their vote before May 29. Otherwise the families behind the SOC are going to be saddled with a debt that could take a long time to pay off.