Miliband taunts PM on cuts threat to West Oxfordshire children's centres

Kieran Butler, right, asks Lynda Jakeway to sign a petition protesting against the possible closure of children’s centres and youth hubs

Kieran Butler, right, asks Lynda Jakeway to sign a petition protesting against the possible closure of children’s centres and youth hubs Buy this photo

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PRIME Minister and Witney MP David Cameron faced questions about his support for children’s centres in Oxfordshire in the House of Commons.

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s first question to Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time last Wednesday was about Chipping Norton’s Ace Centre, which is one of 37 of the 44 in the county threatened with closure.

Mr Miliband said: “Things are so bad he has even signed a petition to save his local children’s centre.

“We all wish him luck in his fight as a local MP. Imagine what he could do if he was Prime Minister of the country.”

But Mr Cameron claimed only one per cent of children’s centres had closed nationally and said the Government was giving councils more money for them.

In Oxfordshire, most of the children’s centres and four of the seven youth intervention hubs, including one in Witan Way, Witney, could close as part of moves by the county council to cut another £61m of spending on top of £201m of savings already made or planned.

Mr Miliband said: “They (the Government) are going round saying children’s centres are safe and there is no threat to them.

“But things are so bad you have even signed a petition in your own area to save your local children’s centre.

“Now can you clarify: is the petition addressed to your local Tory council or are you taking it right to the top?”

Mr Cameron replied: “There are more people using children’s centres than ever before in our country. The figures are, because you don’t want to give the figures, there are 3,000 children’s centres.

“And the point I will make is this – this Government could hold its head up high, because we’re actually increasing the money that is going to local councils for children’s centres.”

Chipping Norton resident Steve Akers, a former governor of the Ace Centre, who is among a group campaigning to keep it open, said he welcomed Mr Miliband’s intervention.

He said: “I find Mr Cameron’s hypocrisy breathtaking. He has made this statement about supporting children’s centres and said money has not been cut, but he knows he’s being disingenuous, because the money hasn’t been ring-fenced.

“I’m overjoyed that it was taken forward and highlighted, because it’s completely unacceptable and we should remind Mr Cameron of that.”

Meanwhile, the campaign against the threatened closures continued in Witney at the weekend.

Kieran Butler, 17, and friends who use the town’s youth hub gathered more than 400 signatures from Saturday shoppers on a petition against its closure.

Mr Butler, who lives in Burwell Drive, said: “It’s not just a place for us, it’s also for people who need support. If it did close, there would be nowhere for them to go.”

The hub offers teenagers activities such as pool, video games, a music room and art room, as well as specialist advice and support for young people and their families.

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