Protest falls on deaf ears

UNAN­I­MOUS AP­PROVAL GIVEN TO CLO­SURE OF CHIL­DREN’S CEN­TRES

Harefield Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ALEXAN­DER BALLINGER by alexan­der.ballinger@trin­i­tymir­ror.com Twit­ter: @amb­hack

COUN­CIL­LORS in Hilling­don gave unan­i­mous ap­proval to a raft of pro­posed bud­get cuts this week, in­clud­ing the clo­sure of two chil­dren’s cen­tres.

The move comes de­spite vo­cal op­po­si­tion from par­ents and op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors who felt moved to hold a protest rally be­fore the coun­cil met to dis­cuss its bud­get.

On Mon­day Fe­bru­ary 20 around 60 pro­test­ers wielded plac­ards and chanted out­side the doors of the Hilling­don Coun­cil of­fices in Uxbridge from 10am.

The protest was held to op­pose the coun­cil’s bud­get cuts to chil­dren’s cen­tre ser­vices that will see two of the 18 cen­tres close down. There will also be changes to staffing to re­duce ex­pen­di­ture by £415,000.

Mum-of-one, Kirsten Wa­ters, was one of those protest­ing.

She has been tak­ing her one-yearold son to the Cherry Lane Chil­dren’s Cen­tre in West Dray­ton since he was two weeks old.

The 32-year-old said: “We were protest­ing to show the coun­cil that their pro­posed cuts to the chil­dren’s cen­tres bud­get will have ef­fects on many fam­i­lies in the bor­ough.

“I worry that there will be cuts to many of the ses­sions of­fered by the cen­tres – for some fam­i­lies this is the only so­cial in­ter­ac­tion the chil­dren get.

“For new mums this also helps get them out of the house and meet other mums who they can share their ex­pe­ri­ences with.

“I feel the best solution would be for the coun­cil to leave the ser­vices as they are.

“Re­search has shown that these early years in a child’s life are vi­tal, by cut­ting these ser­vices from these chil­dren now could cost the coun­cil more in years to come.”

Hilling­don Coun­cil is cut­ting £415,000 from its chil­dren’s ser­vices bud­get – a re­duc­tion of £200,000 in chil­dren cen­tre ex­pen­di­ture and a fur­ther £215,000 de­scribed as a re­view of the chil­dren cen­tre de­liv­ery model.

The coun­cil said the cuts are be­ing made to find a more ef­fi­cient ser­vice in or­der to meet the strain on its bud­get.

This will in­clude the clo­sures of cen­tres at Uxbridge Col­lege in Cold­har­bour Lane, Hayes and Hill­side Pri­mary School in Northwood Way, Northwood from April 2017.

News of the clo­sure caused up­roar among par­ents who use the fa­cil­i­ties, which run ser­vices in­clud­ing re­spite child­care, coun­selling and breast-feed­ing cour­ses.

Mum-of-one, Roo Le­hto from Yiewsley , uses the Col­ham Manor Chil­dren’s Cen­tre in Hilling­don.

The 41-year-old said: “I thought it was won­der­ful to see so many mums and staff at the protest [on Mon­day] and was es­pe­cially grate­ful for the Labour coun­cil­lors who came along to sup­port us. I worry about staff cuts and los­ing vi­tal sup­port from ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion­als and their es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships and un­der­stand­ing with the fam­i­lies who cur­rently fre­quent the cen­tres.

“The ideal solution is to leave the chil­dren’s cen­tre pro­gramme as it is and con­sider how vi­tal for the fu­ture of the bor­ough the safe­guard­ing of chil­dren’s ser­vices is.”

Dur­ing the coun­cil’s bud­get meet­ing on Fe­bru­ary 23 Labour coun­cil­lor called for an am­mend­ment to the bud­get, say­ing: “We feel that we are now on the precipice. The cuts made to ser­vices in the bor­ough are push­ing us over the edge.”

The bor­ough’s Labour group put for­ward three changes, cre­at­ing two new job roles to tackle anti-so­cial be­hav­iour in the bor­ough, par­tic­u­larly in the south, abol­ish­ing the chil­dren’s burial charge for fam­i­lies in the bor­ough, and re­mov­ing chil­dren’s cen­tre cuts.

How­ever, af­ter around two hours and 15 min­utes of de­bate the bud­get was passed unan­i­mously without am­mend­ment.

Leader of the coun­cil, Ray Pud­di­foot, said: “We have frozen tax while main­tain­ing front­line ser­vices while many have not.”

“[We are] im­prov­ing ser­vices at the same time build­ing up fi­nan­cial re­serves to deal with the chal­lengers that lie ahead of us.”

He added: “What we have achieved and con­tinue to achieve in Hilling­don in the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate is re­mark­able.

“We do not un­der­es­ti­mate the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges we, as a coun­cil, still have deal with.

“This is a first class bud­get for a first class bor­ough.”

Cam­paign­ers held plac­ards and chanted out­side Hilling­don Coun­cil of­fices

Par­ents and some bor­ough coun­cil­lors op­pose the pro­posed clo­sure of two chil­dren’s cen­tres

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