Parents furious over chidren centres cuts

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AN ALLIANCE of independent inner city children’s centres have stepped up their attack on plans to cut their budgets by 15 per cent - saying needy Sheffield families will be hit hardest.

Centres in suburbs including Sharrow, Pitsmoor and Tinsley have branded the approach ‘salami slicing’ and have withdrawn from negotiations with councillors and officers.

They insist the cuts will mean the loss of vital frontline services in inner city areas and on large estates.

Councillors have hit back, pointing out at least no centres are being closed altogether, unlike what is happening with some other authorities.

But the Families Using Community Childcare Group says no proper studies have been carried out into the true impact of funding reductions.

It rejects the council’s view vulnerable families will receive the same support.

A letter from the group to Cabinet member for children’s services Coun Colin Ross points out the centres have been coping with budget constraints for eight years.

“We’ve engaged with the council over potential options to protect all our services in a spirit of trust. It has now become apparent that this has been a facade on their part, masking a 15 per cent cut across the entire council.”

The group argues negotiations were a sham and cuts were going ahead anyway.

Mum Fozia Khan said Coun Ross had claimed the aim was to cut back on back-room expenses and bureaucracy and not to affect frontline services.

“In fact we are looking at baby rooms being shut down, nursery classes slashed and job losses too,” she said.

“That’s what normal people call frontline.”

Parent Jack Johnson added: “What about those of us, like me, who work and who need childcare and who don’t earn a lot - where are we to go?

“Some of these services are long-established and award-winning - frontline services that the council is slashing.”

Coun Ross said he appreciated parents and carers might be concerned about funding arrangements for children’s centres in the future but tried to allay their fears.

He said: “Changes to funding will not mean activities at these centres will cease.

“What is changing this year is the requirement to provide day care at council-supported venues.

“This national change means subsidies the council gives for day care will reduce by 15 per cent in 2011/12.

“So providers like Sharrow will be looking to reduce their opening hours for childcare as a step to cutting costs next year.

“We are topping up the amount of money available in Sheffield by £2.8m so children and families eligible for this support can choose the provider they want to use.”