Protest Over Planned Sure Start Closures

A demonstration is taking place in Portsmouth over plans to close some Sure Start Centres.

Families are angry over proposals revealed by Portsmouth City Council 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.

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. Speaking after the last demonstration in March, mother-of-three Lisa said: "We’re disgusted at the way the children’s centres are being cut".

The council say they've received no request to move the meetings. 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."

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education, said that he has spoken to parents and urged 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.

Lisa Fletcher told Heart that she has organised a public meeting for parents to question the leader of the council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, on 29th April at Southsea Community Centre from 7.30 p.m.

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