protesters this week failed to force a change of heart over two cost-saving measures by Sheffield City Council - the cutting of £3.5m from children’s centres and the scrapping of free bus travel for Catholic pupils.
Parents and child care providers lobbied the council’s cabinet (yesterday), but there was no change of strategy over a restructuring of 36 children’s centres, which critics say will hit vulnerable families. However, there will be more consultation.
Managers of the centres, which provide services ranging from midwifery to education for 9,000 under-fives, describe the cuts as catastrophic, throwing services and jobs into doubt. Fears are also being raised over changes to the funding of free nursery child care, which will switch from the council to the Government.
Protesters were supported by Green councillor Jillian Creasy, who said: “If this ‘redesign’ goes ahead, we are likely to see poorer areas of the city having little or no childcare provision and total chaos around advice and support services, because there is not enough time to commission them before existing contracts come to an end.”
The council claims no children’s centres will close. Its review is designed to reduce management and administration costs, and the council maintains it will result in help being given to more children.
Meanwhile, there was no last minute change of heart, either, for the proposed ending of free bus travel for Sheffield’s Catholic pupils from September next year, despite opposition from every secondary headteacher in the city.
A joint letter sent to the city council attacked the move as ‘discriminatory’, as the planned change of rules will affect only All Saints and Notre Dame high schools.
Secondary heads group chair Helen Storey said: “As some families will not be able to move from their local Catholic primary school to their feeder Catholic secondary due to financial restraints, this means they will be denied the right to education.”
The move will save the council £250,000 a year. Labour cabinet member Coun Jackie Drayton said: “The service we have provided until now is discretionary and has gone over and above our statutory requirements. Unfortunately when we are being cut so heavily by the Government we can no longer afford to do this. It is with a heavy heart we have had to even consider making these changes but we have no choice given the scale of cuts we are facing.”