STAFF and parents from Sheffield’s Children’s Centres met last night for an urgent meeting to discuss £3.5 million of Government cuts - as a poll of Star readers showed two-thirds have felt the impact of public spending reductions.
Dozens of people gathered to discuss the issue at the Quaker Meeting House, St James Street.
The staff and users spoke of their fears for services which help 9,000 under-fives, despite assurances by council chiefs no centres will close.
Jayne Ludlam, interim executive director of children’s services at the council, said the authority’s plans to save £3.5 million would focus on making major savings to management costs and aim to provide a ‘similar but more flexible service’ for parents.
But Sally Pease, of Tinsley Parents’ and Children’s Consortium, which runs Tinsley Children’s Centre, said: “The decision to make such cuts will be catastrophic.
“Coupled with changes to how childcare places are paid for, which involve the end of council funding, we could lose up to half of our income.”
She said the council’s claims services would not be impacted were like something from ‘The Thick of It’ - the dark television comedy which satirises British politics.
“The council is not telling the situation like it is,” she said.
Ms Pease said she and managers of other children’s centres were also very worried by changes to funding for nursery care which see the council’s grant-funding axed and replaced by payment from the Government based on enrolments.
She said: “We have had no assurances on what our budget is likely to be. I’m going to have to put staff on notice of redundancy.”
In an online poll on The Star’s website, two-thirds of readers said they had noticed the impact of Government cuts.
Sheffield Council has so far slashed spending by £140 million over the last two years and cut 1,400 jobs. A further £50 million and 600 jobs are to be axed next year.
Changes have included introduction of car parking charges at parks and introduction of fortnightly bin collections.
The cuts were due to last until 2014/15 but Chancellor George Osborne has warned austerity will now last until 2018, prompting council leader Julie Dore to warn ‘it’s the end of the council as we know it’.
She said prolonged austerity would mean some services will have to be withdrawn entirely.
Council cabinet member for finance, Coun Bryan Lodge, added: “There are no two ways about it, the reality is that we have to work within our budgets and it would be irresponsible of us to borrow and gamble on whether there would be more funding available in the future.
“What we are trying to do, particularly in the case of children’s centres, is minimise the impact but we cannot protect funding entirely or it will have a disproportionate impact on other services in the council.”
Coun Lodge said the authority was making other moves to save money including upgrading office accommodation in the Town Hall - criticised by opposition Lib Dems - to reduce rent on private premises.