Parents call for halt to Westminster children’s centre cuts

‘They are the glue which holds the community together’, protesters tell council officers

FURIOUS parents campaigning against cuts to Westminster’s children’s centres pleaded with council officers not to “destroy” their community at a heated meeting on Tuesday.

More than 100 parents packed into the Stowe Centre in Harrow Road as part of the council’s consultation to reduce services after cuts in government funding.

Westminster is proposing to maintain all 12 of the borough’s children’s centres, which offer advice and support to parents and carers of young children. But they plan to slash services and cut staff in order to focus on vulnerable families.

A 500-signature petition has been gathered, with parents telling officers they fear for the future of children’s centres.

The campaign comes a week after charity Save the Children revealed that Westminster has the fifth highest severe child poverty in the UK – with 24 per cent of the borough’s children suffering.

Maida Hill mum Finola Inger has an 18-month-old son and has been using drop-in centre children’s services for more than a year. “When I first had my son I had postnatal depression and knowing I could go to the centre and receive support was such a help,” she said.

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“The ability to have a real community at these centres alleviates a lot of the stress and pressure on a new mother.

“It’s very easy to feel isolated but it feels like a family there and it provides a space where my son can grow and learn with other children.

“These services are the glue which holds the community together. Please do not destroy them.

“Children’s centres are not about just vulnerable people. Everyone can be vulnerable at certain times when they are bringing up children. It’s important that our community is not divided into those who are and are not vulnerable.”

The council is proposing to reduce children’s centre managers and group the 12 centres into three clusters with a main centre alongside smaller linked ones offering reduced services.

Eight centre managers have received letters saying they are vulnerable to redundancy and parents argue the centres will suffer if the leadership is reduced.

Maggi Testot-Newick, of Maida Vale, has a 15-month-old son.

She said: “The staff make sure that the centres are kept immaculate and they know all the parents and children who go there.

“The bottom line is that the council is cutting staff which will have a big effect on the services they can deliver.

“They have said the 12 centres are not being closed. But, if you are reducing their activities, is that not the equivalent of cutting some of the centres?”

North Westminster MP Karen Buck also attended the meeting. She criticised the “disgraceful” decision not to have any councillors present with officers left justifying their decisions.

“Clearly what the council is trying to do is avoid the bad publicity which comes with closing a centre by keeping them open and running a skeleton staff,” she said.

“The service won’t be run in any meaningful way. There’s no doubt that children and young people are feeling the brunt of the cuts in Westminster.”

Westminster’s children and young people boss Cllr Nickie Aiken said: “I am a great advocate of children’s centres and believe that they play a crucial part in improving the lives of families across the community.

“However, we are all too aware of the savings local government has to make in the current climate and changes will have to be made. Our proposals are to reduce management and back office costs wherever possible in order to protect frontline services.”

The council’s children centre consultation runs until March 11.