Mums fail to get decision reversed on Sure Start

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A MUM-of-two fought back tears as she begged a council not to reduce staff at children’s centres in Portsmouth.

Nikki Coles, 25, made a passionate speech at today’s full council meeting at the Guildhall, pleading with councillors to rethink their decision to make £1m-worth of cuts to the city’s Sure Start centres.

Protesters outside Guildhall Square in Portsmouth yesterday angry at cuts to Sure Start centres

Protesters outside Guildhall Square in Portsmouth yesterday angry at cuts to Sure Start centres

The council was required to debate a petition of 1,500 signatures handed in by campaigners.

As reported, leaders at Portsmouth City Council have decided not to close any of the city’s 16 children’s centres.

Instead, the money will be saved by losing the equivalent of 21 full-time posts and reducing opening hours.

Mrs Coles, of Moorland Road, Fratton, said: ‘We realise we are in difficult financial times. We are not blind to that.

‘But speaking on behalf of the families that use Sure Start, would it not make much more sense for the budget to be emphasised on the staff and not the bricks and mortar?’

She added: ‘I am living proof that it works and so are my children. If things go ahead as they are I am fearful for future of all of us, not just Sure Start.’

The campaigners, who held a protest outside the Guildhall before the meeting, were supported by the Labour party.

Councillor John Ferrett, Labour leader, said: ‘We are not just talking about administrators – we are talking about skilled practitioners and teaching staff.’

Tory leader Donna Jones said it was one of the most ‘moving’ speeches she had heard in the council chamber and warned that Sure Start’s outreach services must be maintained.

Lib Dem Cllr Rob Wood, who heads children and education services, said making the tough decisions had involved much ‘soul-searching’.

But he said the council’s budget had to be cut by £17m this year because of huge drops in government grant.

‘We are not magicians – we have cut costs accordingly,’ he said.

‘We proposed to keep services local as parents said they wanted to keep it local. We have achieved this by keeping the venues within pram-pushing distance.

‘We have done our utmost to minimise the impact on local families.’

He said the council was ploughing cash into doubling the number of health visitors in Portsmouth over the next two years and creating 900 extra nursery places for the most disadvantaged two year olds.

Cllr Jason Fazackarley stressed that not a single centre was being lost, nor a child’s place.