Oxford

Cameron-row council cuts children's centres

Cuts demonstration
Image caption Oxfordshire County Council's plans to cut children's centres have been heavily criticised by service users and campaigners

A council at the centre of a cuts row involving the prime minister has announced it will cut more than half its children's centres.

Twenty-six of Oxfordshire's 44 centres are set to close unless groups come forward to run them.

David Cameron wrote to the authority last year expressing "disappointment" at cuts to various services.

His mother, Mary, then reportedly signed a petition opposing cuts to children's centres.

The council announced that from spring 2017 there will be 18 centres, with eight providing childcare services. Currently there are 44 children's centres and seven intervention hubs.

'Doesn't get through'

Child services bosses blamed government cuts and claimed "financial pressures" and rising demand meant the structure of the service had to be reviewed.

Cabinet member for children, education and families Melinda Tilley said: "I have no choice but to save the money, the government has stopped the money.

"We cannot continue as we are... and that's something I find doesn't seem to get through.

"When you take £6m out of services it's going to have consequences."

The Conservative-led authority has said it will provide a fund of £1m to help communities take on the running of children's centres post-2017.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Cameron's mother Mary reportedly signed a petition against the council's cuts to the proposed closures of children's centres.

Save Oxfordshire's Children's Centres has called the proposals an "unforgivable waste of money", claiming cash is being "funnelled" into intervention hubs for vulnerable children rather than to children's centres.

Campaigner Jill Huish said: "It's our young families and children that are going to get cheated.

"What's happening is they're taking money away from prevention and putting it into cure. It's basically plugging one hole to create another.

"That hole is going to mean families falling through the gaps; it means some children will be invisible [to services]."

The council said 30 extra staff will be drafted in to the remaining 18 locations to help identify vulnerable children.

Mrs Tilley added: "What we are proposing is the safest possible system that protects vulnerable families and links effectively with other agencies.

"Our priority is keeping children safe and supporting the most vulnerable families."

The authority initially planned to cut £8m from the children's services budget, but this has now been reduced to £6m.

On Monday, bosses pledged to spend £1.9m on the new members of staff.

The full council will consider the new proposals on 24 May.

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