PROTESTERS voiced their concerns for families if plans to close 31 children’s centres across Surrey - including Haslemere Tennyson centre - go ahead.
Members of union groups and Save Our Services gathered outside Surrey County Council’s County Hall headquarters in Kingston on Tuesday to protest against the cuts.
The stand against the proposals that go before cabinet members next week was timed to coincide with a meeting Cllr Mary Lewis, cabinet member for children and families, was holding inside the building.
The county council plans to close 31 children’s centres across the area reducing the number from 57 to 26. It will then set up an additional nine satellite hubs and keep one mobile unit.
The sites will be rebranded as ’family centres’ and offer services for families with children aged up to 11 years-old. Volunteers will be called on to help run the centres as staff take on more outreach work.
Redundancies have not been ruled out, according to council papers due to go before cabinet members on Tuesday.
Paul Couchman, from Save Our Services, told the group: “I fail to see how that stops people falling behind. The core purpose of children centres is to improve outcomes for children and their families and to reduce inequalities as children develop.”
He said figures suggested there were 30,000 children living in poverty in Surrey and the use of foodbanks had increased by four-fold.
He added: “Surely in a time of austerity and the difficulties people are facing this is not the time to be closing children centres.”
Showing support for the families and staff who will be affected by the cuts, Lee Belsten, secretary of Surrey Fire Brigade Union, said: “You have got the support and backing of Surrey firefighters and Fire Brigade Union. We are experiencing cuts and challenges to the fire service across Surrey. We are here and we support you.”
The protest had been organised by groups campaigning to keep children centres open.
Stopping to talk to them was Cllr Chris Botten, Liberal Democrat leader, who offered support for their campaigns.
Surrey County Council’s proposal to close the children’s centres would save £1 million in the first year with an expected £3.4m saving after 2020.
* Condemning the proposal to axe the town’s children’s centre, Tennyson information officer Claire Matthes said: “The documents for this meeting make for some miserable reading as regards families with children under five in Haslemere.
“Many of you responded to the consultation and yet Tennyson’s continues to be listed under the heading ‘current centres where no Surrey County Council services would be offered’. The only amendments made as a result of the consultation process are countywide and include the delivery of mobile provision through the use of a bus - that’s one single bus across the whole county. Here in Haslemere we are due to lose our bespoke community venue, and outreach delivery in homes has historically been designed to engage with and encourage that family to come out and join group activities reducing potential isolation. We would gradually encourage families to attend supported children’s centre activities where they would then meet new people and access further services.
“This vital pathway will be lost or severely diminished by this apparent change in the approach to home visiting outreach work.
“It is my opinion that to close Tennyson’s will in no significant way replace the high quality, value for money service it has provided families in Haslemere, Hindhead and Beacon Hill since 2010. Cuts to these services once again affect some of the most vulnerable in our community. A reduction in children’s centres’ services means the early help and support networks some families need is so minimal only those in deep crisis can access it. The cost of fixing the problems caused by these cuts will far exceed the money saved.”