PORTSMOUTH City Council is to axe 21 jobs from its children’s centres, following cuts to services.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson made the announcement last night at an acrimonious meeting at Southsea Community Centre called by parents campaigning against the closures.
He said the 34 locations the Sure Start children’s centres are run from will remain open, but the Sure Start services themselves will be scaled back, adding that the staff affected had been told, and are currently going through the redundancy consultation process.
The cuts are being made because the council has to find £17m-worth of savings this year, after its funding from central government was reduced by a third.
Central funding has, however, increased to double health visitor numbers, and will pay for more free nursery places, from 200 to 1,200 across the city.
However, parents have protested over cuts to the Sure Start Centres, saying they are a vital resource for mums and dads who might be struggling with a new baby, or who have no support at home, or who want advice.
Lisa Fletcher, who is one of the most vocal campaigners and who arranged last night’s meeting, said: ‘Health visitors just have tick boxes when they come round and don’t build a rapport with you.
‘At the Sure Start centres you have up to five years talking to the same people. They’re trained to spot if you’re having a bad day, if something is not right with your child.’
She said Portsmouth City Council is cutting the Sure Start funding by 48 per cent, when the national average for the cuts is 22 per cent.
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said child services had escaped cuts in recent years, compared to other local authorities.
He added: ‘We’ve had to make a number of tough decisions, decisions we really did not want to make.’
A full report into the future of the Sure Start Centres, following a consultation, will be unveiled at a public council meeting on June 3, he added.
‘I want to thank everyone who took part in it because it has actually made a difference,’ he said.