Families staged a ‘messy march’ in Newcastle against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service.
Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.
A series of themed protests – including a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – have been staged in recent weeks, and organiser Vanessa Cutter, 32, explained the thinking around Saturday’s event at Grey’s Monument.
The mum-of-three of Fenham, Newcastle, said:
“A messy march is a child centred protest march where children do what they do best – make a mess and be noisy.
“It serves several purposes – we want to show the council that we are willing to take action, demonstrate and fight against their proposed 65% cuts to Sure Start services.
“We want to show them that if they close two thirds of centres then the city’s children will have nowhere to go.
“The council seems keen to invest lots of money in businesses and the city centre, but if that comes at the cost of children’s services then we will have to play in the areas they do invest in.”
All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.
Many councils across the North are struggling to make similar savings – or cuts – including Middlesbrough.
Mayor Ray Mallon announced in January £14.9m of cuts – in addition to more than £40m removed from the council’s budget over the last three years – will lead to the loss of around 300 jobs. Amongst departments are children’s services.
Sure Start was a Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.
The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.
Mum-of-two Anna Snaith, 28, of Heaton said:
“I am very upset that two out of three options for the future of services in my area include completely closing down the Ouseburn Family Centre which I regularly attend.
“The team there are fantastic and offer so much support to parents as well as children in a wide range of areas. The centre, like all Sure Start centres, promote health and well being for all families which is vital for communities. These services are the future for our children therefore I cannot understand how closing down any of them can be an option at all for our council!”
A council spokesman said previously:
“The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016.
“We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions.
“Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 Sept 2014