Sheffield Children’s centres petition debate

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COUNCILLORS will come under pressure next week to rethink proposed £3.5m cuts to early years services for children in Sheffield after receiving a 10,000-name petition.

Protesters say the authority “has not fully understood the impact of these cuts” - and will look for a change of strategy when the full council meets next Wednesday.

The petition urges that the proposals are shelved, communities are consulted over the support they need and “alternative areas” are examined for ways of reducing costs.

Plans to reduce the budget for children’s centres and childcare have proved one of the most controversial elements of this year’s council budget to address a £50m gap as a result of Government spending cuts.

Up to 50 people could lose their jobs as 36 children’s centres are reorganised into 17 children’s centre ‘areas’. In addition, 20 childcare providers are set to lose their subsidies.

The ruling Labour group blames a ‘tidal wave of draconian cuts’ from central government and says it aims to make the most of the resources available to maintain flexible, accessible and high quality services.

But demonstrations by parents and staff have been held outside the town hall, and now the petition will be debated, with councillors being told of the importance of community nurseries and children’s centres in terms of their “universal, culturally sensitive, high quality education and care as well as preventative services for all families.

“They support parents on low incomes to gain access to employment. They support parents to access further education or gain basic skills. More importantly they give children from deprived backgrounds the important early year’s experience that gives them the right start in life.”

The petition adds that in 2011-12, seven Sheffield nurseries got an “outstanding” grade from Ofsted, and five of these are now at risk, making a mockery of the council’s strategies of narrowing the gap between the better off and deprived communities and raising educational attainment.

There will be a “devastating effect” on deprived communities at a time when they need it most, councillors are being told.