Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Portsmouth's Sure Start children's centre cuts go ahead

Protest against Sure Start service cuts
Image caption Parents and children protested against the plans in April

Portsmouth's main children's centres will remain open but with reductions to the teams of staff running them and opening hours.

Portsmouth City Council announced last year it would save just over £1m from children's centres following budget cuts.

The teams for each of the 16 Sure Start centres will now be merged into nine, the council's cabinet has agreed.

Protestors said they are "saddened" by the decision.

Other changes include reduced spending on services such as new play equipment and an increase in the use of volunteers in the centres.

The savings mean the equivalent of 21 full-time posts will be lost, but the council said it had not filled some posts where staff had already left and said others had opted for voluntary redundancy.

'Families will suffer'

The decision follows a three-month consultation by the council including three petitions - which in total gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

Lisa Fletcher, who organised a protest of parents and children against the plans in April, said the group was "really saddened" by the decision and added she felt their views had not been listened to.

"They [councillors] want to make the centres volunteer-led which is unfortunate because volunteers can't do the work of fully-trained staff and families will suffer," she said.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education, said: "This reorganisation will help us to make the savings we have to make, while guaranteeing that every child or parent who needs children's centre services is able to receive them."

He said the council would not introduce charges for services and added there would be more one-to-one support for the most vulnerable families, including three new specialist workers.

"Overall, because of increases in funding for nursery places, and a doubling in the number of health visitors, spending on services for children aged up to five in Portsmouth will actually increase," he added.

The authority also said it had taken into account a shift in government funding - away from children's centres and towards nursery places for two-year-olds.

It added each centre would get a new parents' group or a stay-and-play group.

The changes will be introduced from 9 September.

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