Protesters are being urged to turn out in force over plans to make cuts to Medway’s Sure Start centres.
A planned demonstration is set to take place outside the St George’s Centre in Chatham on Thursday, February 25, as councillors arrive for the full council meeting, which is due to include discussion of planned cuts.
Medway has 19 centres, offering information and advice as well as a range of services including drop-in sessions, activities, ante-natal classes and clinics, but this year’s council budget includes plans to axe funding for the centres by 35%.
The council’s Conservative administration says it will keep the 19 centres but that they will be arranged into clusters and some fear this could be a first step towards reducing centre numbers.
Labour councillor Teresa Murray said she hoped demonstrators turned out in numbers at the council meeting, and that the need for Sure Start centres was stronger than ever.
“We’ve got 48,000 under four-year-olds in Medway,” she said. “The birth rate has risen for the last five years – do the math.
“It’s not just about offering ideas about parenting and child health but helps reduce the isolation of new parents, helping them to meet new people.
“It’s hard to get nursery places now, there are a fewer free church based or other mother and toddler groups, and child care is at a premium.”
The Sure Start scheme was introduced by the Labour government in 1998 with the aim of giving children “the best possible start in life” through improvement of child care, early education, health and family support.
But while the Conservative administration say the service will be maintained, Labour councillors fear the original Sure Start vision and its achievements will be eroded and undermined.
Cllr Murray added: “There’s a 35 per cent reduction in budget so instead of staff-based centres they want to have a central team and deploy them to centres where there’s a need. That tells you straight away there will be a reduction in opening hours.
“Where you had stable teams of people that wouldn’t be the case. It’s difficult for the workers and difficult for the families that need that connection.
“I don’t care how well-intentioned the new structure is, if you’re taking away 35 per cent of the budget you can’t deliver the same service. There will be job cuts and there will be good buildings laying fallow.
She said Sure Start was an ideal way of catching some children’s problems early, before they were inherited by primary schools.
Protesters are asked to get to the St George’s Centre in Pembroke Road for 6.30pm, before the 7pm meeting start.