The council intends to reduce the number of children’s centres from 16 to nine by merging some together to focus services on places where they are needed the most and to cut down on building and administration costs.
The planned mergers include Southsea with Brambles, Portsea with Somerstown, and Milton Park joining with the Cumberland and Baffins centres. Paulsgrove, Fratton, and Buckland and Landport services will remain as they are.
Parents and children have opposed the mergers by sending a petition of 650 signatures and handprints from the children to the Council.
Lisa Fletcher, 37, who has regularly used the children’s centres said, ‘I've been using Sure Start for over a year. I suffer from post-natal depression and if it was not for Sure Start then I often wonder where I would be at this point in time.
‘When I heard about the merges and cuts to our Sure Start services and staff, I decided that it was an unimaginable proposal which will have a devastating impact on the families and children of Portsmouth. I had a discussion with another parent who uses Sure Start and it was at that point, I decided I could not ignore this and that if no one else was going to speak out and challenge the council then I would and I will speak for our parents and children.
Our children's centres are an integral part of our community and essential for our children to ensure they have the best possible start in their young lives.’
A Facebook page has been set up called ‘Save our Sure Start Centres Portsmouth’, which has over 1,600 users.
Councillor Rob Wood, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said, ‘Overall we’re seeing an increase in funding for very young children in Portsmouth.
‘But the Government has moved money away from childcare centres, towards providing more daycare places for two year olds.
‘And all parts of the council have to deal with the Government’s challenge to make savings.
'We believe in children’s centres and know they’re important to local people. But they have to be good value for money. We have to concentrate on services, not buildings, and the families who will benefit from support. We want people to tell us their views and are listening carefully to what they say.’
The council’s review of children’s centres is considering the many changes taking place in services for young children, and issues such as the number of babies and young children there are in different parts of the city.
It is also considering the number of children living in low-income households in different areas, taking into account where their health or development is most likely to be affected.
It will take into account where families using different children’s centre locations live to ensure the best use of buildings, while ensuring all families that need support receive the services they need.
Another factor is that more families are receiving support in their own homes due to the increased number of health visitors.
Consultation on the proposals has included leaflets, posters, online publicity, meetings at children’s centres and an article in the council’s residents’ magazine which goes to every home in the city.
The public consultation ended on 13 March but the council’s consultation is currently still in progress. A decision is likely to be made within the next two months.