THIRTY-seven of Oxfordshire’s 44 children’s centres could be shut as part of major budget cuts facing the county.
Staff have told the Oxford Mail that talks were held this week where it was revealed that all but seven could be axed.
The centres – which offer support to families of children under five – are used by 18,000 people a year, employ more than 260 staff and cost £9m annually.
The county council confirmed yesterday that centres could face closure as part of their efforts to cut £61m from its budget, on top of savings of £201m already made or committed to up to 2017.
They declined to discuss how many centres could shut – but the Mail understands from council staff that a figure of 37 has been spelled out to them.
County council spokesman Paul Smith said: “We will not be able to afford the widespread coverage that exists at present with 44 children’s centres and a mobile service. We must therefore concentrate closely on where these services would best be focused for the most vulnerable.
“We are likely to be proposing the closure of a number of children’s centres as part of wider savings plans linked to this year’s budget-setting process. No decisions have been taken about exactly how many children’s centres would close or which.”
Children’s centres were set up to intervene early in life to try to ensure all children have the best possible start in life. Parents can get help and advice on child and family health, parenting, money, training and employment.
It is not known which centres could shut, but mothers and those involved in childcare say they are devastated.
Ex-midwife Sue Richards, who runs the baby café at the North Abingdon Children’s Centre in Northcourt Road, said: “I am utterly horrified on every level. It’s a massive blow. The whole ethos of different teams working with families has been such a massive step forward in childcare. It is devastating to hear this news.
“There is the chance that more will end up as children in need or under child protection.
“It is short-sighted at a most crucial stage of childcare. It cannot be allowed to happen.”
New mum Daniela Winter, from Lyford Way, Abingdon, uses North Abingdon Children’s Centre and Wootton Children’s Centre two or three times a week.
The 33-year-old mum of three-month-old Marcus, said: “I was sad to hear the news because it is a great help, especially when you are a new mum.
“When you have your first baby you are wondering ‘Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?’ But the children’s centre answers all your questions, and you can talk to other mums with the same problems. “I had problems breast-feeding at first and if it wasn’t for their help I probably wouldn’t be breastfeeding now.”
Last night, Conservative council leader Ian Hudspeth told the Mail: “We need to make an extra £60m worth of savings on top of £74m we are already making, so we have to look at all areas.
“If we look at children’s centres, we would also look at different ways to run the services from different places.”
A total of £22.5m has to be saved by the Children Education & Families (CEF) department of the county council by 2016.
Director Jim Leivers wrote to children’s centre staff to tell them of the proposals and held meetings to discuss the plans this week.
The letter said: “The previous practice of shaving little bits of budgets here and there, salami slicing, will no longer suffice.
“We shall have to reprioritise our ambitions, activity and emphasis.”
Labour leader of the county council Liz Brighouse said: “The children’s centres are one of the jewels in the Labour government’s crown and something we will fight very hard to protect. I am hopeful they will all stay open but there is a risk.”
The county council’s budget plans are due to go before scrutiny committees in December. The cabinet will consider the proposals in January and recommend a budget to full council on February 18.
- Donnington Doorstep Family Centre
- East Oxford Children's Centre
- Elms Road School & Children’s Centre
- Florence Park Children's Centre
- Grandpont Nursery School & Children’s Centre
- Leys Children's Centre
- The Maple Tree Children’s Centre
- Marston/Northway Children’s Centre
- North Oxford Children’s Centre
- Rose Hill and Littlemore Children’s Centre
- The Roundabout Centre s Slade and Headington Children’s Centre
- Ambrosden Area Children's Centre
- Bicester Children’s Centre Brookside
- Bicester Children’s Centre Glory Farm
- Butterfly Meadows (Bloxham & Surrounding Area) Children’s Centre
- Britannia Road Children’s Centre
- Carterton Children’s Centre
- East Street Centre
- Heyford and Caversfield Area Children's Centre
- Kaleidoscope Children’s Centre
- North and West Witney Children's Centre
- North Banbury Children’s Centre
- The Ace Centre s The Orchard (Eynsham and Woodstock Area)
- The Sunshine Centre
- Willow Tree (Bampton and Burford Area) Children’s Centre
- Witney Children’s Centre
- Berinsfield Children's Centre
- Chalgrove and Watlington Children’s Centre
- Didcot Ladygrove Children's Centre
- Faringdon Children's Centre
- Grove and Hanneys Children's Centre
- North Abingdon Children's Centre
- North East Abingdon Children's Centre
- Red Kite Children's Centre, Thame
- The Rainbow Children’s Centre, Henley
- The Rainbow Centre, Sonning Common, Goring, Woodcote and area
- South Abingdon Children's Centre
- South Didcot Children's Centre
- Southmoor Children's Centre
- Stephen Freeman Children's Centre
- Wallingford Children's Centre
- Wantage Children’s Centre