Closer The Chainsmokers
Hampshire County Council are meeting to discuss the financial budget for the next year.
It's thought as many as 1200 jobs could go as the council tries to make savings.
Despite these cuts, they say they wont be getting rid of ANY of the area's Sure Start centres, which provide support for parents in the form of advice, childcare and other services.
In a statment, a spokesperson for the county council said:
Executive Member for Children's Services, Councillor Roy Perry, has spoken of his wish to work directly with parents and community representatives to move forward together over the proposed re-organisation of children's centres in Hampshire.
Speaking ahead of todays (24th Feb) budget meeting and the deputation from mums representing the Save Our Children's Centres (SOCC Hampshire), Councillor Perry said he was a keen supporter of the work of children's centres and was proud of the progress that had been made in Hampshire in recent years.
He said he also hoped that SOCC Hampshire would reconsider their decision to refuse an invitation to meet with him and the Director of Children's Services.
While the Council would be facing difficult decisions in difficult times, he said he wanted the core ethos and model of early intervention for children's centres to be protected. He said it was clear that the most valuable role the centres played was in helping families of more vulnerable children where parents needed more support.
Subject to the budget decisions to be made, the centres would thrive where needed most with a continued annual spend of around £11million.
He stressed that the Council was not planning large scale closures, but savings did have to be made to meet the huge and unavoidable challenge of the local government settlement.
"Painful as it is, we cannot escape the fact that we have to identify around £20 million savings in children's services alone. Because we are rightly protecting services for the most vulnerable children, we have to find that £20 million from around £60 million of discretionary spending which includes children's centres."
"I do understand the concerns that are being voiced and why it has been stated that we are 'closing 28 centres' but that is simply not the case. The Council is planning to move from the existing model of 81 individually managed centres to a total of 53 merged centres, but in the vast majority of cases there will be mergers of management and services and will not involve the closure of sites or buildings.
"We will merge, not close, the management of centres so that they can be run more efficiently; we will better tailor services to ensure they are available to support parents where they are needed the most and we will invite tenders from community and voluntary organisations and possibly schools to provide the centres for best value," he said.
"I am especially keen to hear from those who have been directly affected by the excellent service and support our centres offer and look forward to listening to the deputation. I hope they may reconsider their offer of a meeting."
Addressing the claims that today's budget meeting marked the end of the consultation period, Councillor Perry said:
"Decisions to be made on Thursday are around the overall £55million savings the authority needs to make. The budget proposals are based on estimates of savings to be achieved against specific initiatives or proposals but these are subject to consultation on the detail and I want to work directly with parents and community representatives to ensure we can move forward together with these plans."
UNISON will be protesting outside the meeting.
The County Council has identified a requirement to reduce the workforce costs of the organisation by 8% in 2011/12 (and a further (8% in 2012/13). It is anticipated that, overall, the workforce will reduce by 1,200 posts. This will include the deletion of a number of vacancies and the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts. The highest proportion of job losses will be in the Adult Services and Children’s Services departments.
UNISON Hampshire Branch Secretary Gina Turner added: "Cuts of this scale will impact heavily on frontline services. This a regressive step and if the Council does decide to implement such widescale cuts, it will be a dark day for the residents of Hampshire.
"We are concerned for the most vulnerable in the community, particularly many who utilise the vital facilities offered by both the Adult and Children’s Services departments. The Council is sitting on reserves of over £130 million, the third biggest council reserves in the country, and it is baffling that they could decide to cut jobs and services rather than spend some of this money."
UNISON Hampshire Acting Deputy Branch Secretary Tim Cutter added:
"By putting money into local services we could kick start economic growth but the Council chooses instead to place more people out of work. The economy needs jobs and Hampshire residents need well maintained local services, yet the Conservative-led Council is choosing cuts.
"Hampshire UNISON does not believe these cuts are necessary and and is committed to fighting them. We call on all those opposed to the cuts to join in a campaign of resistance and we are calling on Hampshire residents to join us at Thursday’s protest and stand up for their services."