Battling parents staged a ‘Teddy Bears Protest’ outside Newcastle City Council 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.
Scores of mums and dads with their kids, along with Sure Start workers, converged on Newcastle Civic Centre for the colourful event, one of many that organisers ‘Parents Against Cuts’ have lined up in the run-in to the council’s budget implementation in October.
Spokeswoman Vanessa Cutter of Fenham, Newcastle, said: “We want to let the council know that they’re in for a fight.”
She said at a previous event earlier this month – a picnic in the Civic Centre grounds – Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes spoke to the protestors.
Vanessa said: “While he sympathised with us, he said there was nothing he can do as it was to do with Government cuts.
“But isn’t his role as leader of the council to fight for the people of Newcastle?
“We’re not putting ourselves above other services. We just think the cuts are too deep and the nearer the council can get to zero per cent cuts the better for us.”
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.
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.
They say it will make a deteriorating situation even worse on the back of cuts which have seen the axing of council play and youth services last year.
Yvonne Holliman, 33, of the Montagu Estate, Newcastle, said of Sure Start: “It was an absolute lifeline for me. When my son, Josh, was born I suffered from Post Natal Depression and had nowhere to go at first.
“I was referred to Sure Start by my Health Visitor as are others have been. If it had not been there I don’t know what I would have done, maybe lapsed into a deeper depression.
“I got a chance to go somewhere to meet other parents and my son had kids to play with in a safe environment.
“At the end of the day, if the cuts are carried out, it will be the kids who suffer.”
Dad Rob Forster, 28, from Byker said: “I’m here to show support for the programme which supported my family.
“I don’t care about the financial side of it, it’s the social aspect I’m concerned about and the impact it will have on families.”
Dad Richard Cutter, 40, husband of Vanessa, said: “If the council closes these down now it will create a whole lot of social problems further down the line.
“The North East is one of the most deprived areas in the country and Sure Start helps provide tremendous support for the less well off. People who need help with raising kids, it teaches them about society and the community and means we are less likely to hear about problems of crime with them.
“It’s not just about the impact now, it’s about the impact it will have on Newcastle in the future.”
A council spokesman said: “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 Evening Chronicle, 23 July 2014