Sheffield children’s centre cuts anger

Chidcare cuts protests outside Sheffield Town Hall
Chidcare cuts protests outside Sheffield Town Hall

ANGRY parents heckled Sheffield councillors who ‘provisionally approved’ plans to cut £6.8 million from early years education budgets - including £3.5m from children’s centres.

About 200 parents packed into the Town Hall meeting, which had to be moved to a larger-than-usual room to accommodate them.

Changes proposed include a reorganisation of 36 children’s centres into 17 ‘areas’ managing services at two or three venues.

The council says the move will secure huge savings in administration costs while keeping the same number of buildings providing services.

Meanwhile, funding for nursery places is no longer to be provided by the council. Instead, centres will receive a grant from the Government based on how many youngsters are enrolled.

Parents and staff from the children’s centres and nurseries fear facilities may close due to the uncertainty over funding - and the council has confirmed 50 jobs at children’s centres will be lost.

Comments of ‘We do not accept these cuts’ and ‘You should cut your wages’ were shouted at councillors and officers as the council cabinet approved the changes subject to further consultation.

Opposition Lib Dem councillors have requested the changes are ‘called in’ for debate by a scrutiny board to examine legal issues around the decision.

Before the meeting, a protest took place outside the Town Hall.

Darnall mum Fraham Hussein, whose four-year-old daughter Huda Mohamed goes to Darnall children’s centre, said: “We don’t know what the impact will be on the children’s centres and nurseries. I am a full-time student and if the nursery in Darnall was to close, I’d be badly hit.”

First speaker during the meeting was Emma Chadwick, who sends her three-year-old autistic son Aden Ellis to Darnall Nursery.

She broke down in tears as she presented a 1,500-signature petition against the changes.

Emma said: “There’s a lot of upset parents.”

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children’s services, replied: “This is a difficult time and £6.8m in cuts is going to affect children, families and 50 members of staff whose jobs are vulnerable.

“The Government has funding priorities. The amount being taken out of early years is exactly the same as that being given back in pupil premium payments for poorer pupils and free early learning places for under-fives.

“We are looking at ways the council can make savings from administration, management and the cost of places.”

Sheffield Council is hoping to ensure funding can begin from April for nursery places under the new system, once the current council grant arrangements come to an end.

Coun Colin Ross, Lib Dem opposition spokesman for children’s services, said: “We will be calling this cabinet decision in for further scrutiny because we are concerned an equality impact assessment about its impact has not been completed before a cabinet decision has been made.

“The council could be open to a legal challenge about its proposals unless this is rectified.”

Green Party central ward councillor Jillian Creasy added: “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.”