Parents Protest as Council "Close Door on Sure Start for the Majority"

Standing ovation from audience for local mum Kate's impassioned appeal

Cabinet Agenda, April 18

Protest at Town Hall as Council Votes on "Death Blow to Children's Centres"

The Cowan Report

Save Wendell Park Children's Centre

Online consultation

Anger as Sure Start Funding Cuts are Agreed

Protestors Rally at Hammersmith Town Hall

Cabinet Meeting Agenda, January 10

MP Attacks Plan for Funding Cuts to Children's Centres

Family Support Programme

Sure Start Centres

Andy Slaughter

Sure Start Centres in Hammersmith and Fulham

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Families from across the borough gathered for a mass protest outside the Town Hall in Hammersmith on Monday, April 18 ahead of a council cabinet meeting which was expected to rubber stamp plans to "reconfigure" its children's services.

Giles Finnemore of Hammersmith and Fulham Citizens reports:
" About 150 parents with children on knees and babies in arms (buggies were banned from the meeting), many from Hammersmith and Fulham Parents Unite and West London Citizens, packed the Town Hall meeting last night to witness H&F Council agree to, in effect, close the door on Sure Start for the majority.

" It was revealed that whilst Government allocated H&F a budget of £4.7m to run Sure Start the Council have cut this to £1.3m and as such nine of the sixteen centres will be run down, offering no services.

" Andrew Christie, Director of Children’s Services, admitted that currently 13,000 children use Sure Start and that capacity is being cut to 2,000.

"When asked if she would resign if any of the nine centres due to be run down were being ear marked for eventual sale Councillor Helen Binmore, Conservative, refused to deny any planned building sell-off. She said services would be better in the long term.

" Kate Aubrey-Johnson from Hammersmith and Fulham Parents Unite received a five minute standing ovation after an impassioned appeal to Councillors to properly consult with families before making the final decision.

" She said Sure Start was not just a play group but provided essential support to families that would otherwise not be picked up by social services and education department until too late.

" She highlighted a child who had been diagnosed with hearing problem by experts who visited a Sure Start Centre and the nutrition classes teaching families, parents and children together, to reduce obesity.

" Labour Councillors asked for the Council to follow the lead of Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary, who has delayed the decision on NHS reform to both reflect and consult more widely. Stephen Cowan said you cannot cut a budget by 75% and claim the service will be better in the long term.

" The decision to make the cuts was carried by five votes to four."

The council says it plans to create a "hub and spoke" arrangement for H&F's 16 Sure Start children's centres.

Under this arrangement, six "hubs" - at Old Oak, Randolph Beresford, Masbro, Flora Gardens, Fulham Central and
Melcombe children's centres - will be expected to offer a wider range of services and oversee smaller "spoke" centres.

These "hubs" will receive funding of between £300,000 and £336,000 per year.

The remaining "spokes", which previously received between £104,000 and £250,000 per annum will now receive drastically reduced funds.

The Cathnor Park Centre is proposed as a "super-spoke", receiving £50,000 a year, though the council admits it has not yet been decided who will run it.

Wendell Park and New Kings centres will receive £25,000 each and Shepherds Bush Families Project £20,000, with additional funding from the housing department.

The other spokes will each receive just £19,000 a year. They are Broadway in Brook Green, Fulham South, Normand Croft, Bayonne Nursery, Bishop's Park and Sand's End Playhouse, which is to become Ray’s Playhouse, run by a local parents' group with substantial extra funding from a private donor.

The cuts have been condemned by Stephen Cowan, Leader of H&F's Labour Group of Councillors, who accuses the council of attempting to "sneak through the final death blow to H&F's Children's Centres during the Easter Break".

He adds that reducing annual budgets to only £19,000 in some centres leaves them, at best, only capable of a skeleton service.

"The long and short of all this is that the vast majority of the thousands of local families that currently benefit from Sure Start children's centres will be turned away," says Cllr Cowan.

His view is echoed by worried local families, including Ruthie Walsh, who is leading a vocal campaign to save Wendell Park Children's Centre, and who encouraged other parents to join the town hall protest with a Buggy Push.

Ruthie says: " Ten Children's Centres have had their budgets slashed by up to 92%! £19,000 a year does not keep a Centre 'open' as claimed."

Youth clubs in the borough have also been hit by cuts, with only three out of seven remaining open.

The council however, is defending these cuts. Cllr Helen Binmore, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, says: " In these unprecedented financial times it is right to target precious resources on the most vulnerable families.

“Councils across the country are having to look innovatively at how children’s centres operate in order to ensure that every penny spent is used in the most efficient and effective way."

April 18, 2011