8:00am Thursday 28th November 2013
ENDANGERED children's centres serving Halesowen and Cradley have been saved from closure in a dramatic U-turn by Dudley's Labour-run council.
A massive public outcry against the proposed closure of seven centres across the borough has forced the cash-starved council to pull the plug on the plan, which would have saved £2.3 million, just two weeks after the shock announcement.
Education secretary Michael Gove had even planned to give his support to protesters by visiting Halesowen's threatened Tenterfields Children's Centre, with a hastily arranged visit during a tour of the region.
Council leader Councillor David Sparks said there had been "overwhelming support" for the centres, which were a flagship policy of the last Labour Government, designed to help hard to reach families with children under five offering free childcare and family support.
He said the centres, including Hob Green and Quarry Bank, which cater for Cradley families, would stay open for the "foreseeable future".
But he confirmed the downgrading of nine satellite centres, including Olive Hill in Halesowen and Little Hands in Cradley would remain a focus for the consultation which is not due to end until January.
Cllr Sparks also warned there could be future cuts unless the Government loosens its purse strings and urged local MPs to lobby for more Whitehall funding to tackle the £60 million of cuts faced by Dudley.
He said: "We have been able to find substantial savings from future re-structuring within the department. However, these are way off the savings we will need in future years unless the Government changes its policy."
Jubilant Tenterfields management committee chairman Halesowen South Conservative councillor David Vickers said the people of Halesowen had shown it was a service they "needed and wanted".
He added: "The future is another worry, but at least the families can have a relaxing Christmas, because access to these centres makes a big difference to their budgets."
Cradley's Labour councillor Richard Body described the U-turn as "fantastic news" and praised the Hob Green parents for the strength of their protest.
He said: "I have worked with them in the past two weeks, I knew what went on, but not to that extent. I have heard parents telling me how the centre had changed their lives. I've seen parents in tears, it means that much to them."
Mr Gove is now expected to visit one of the schools pioneering ways of building links with businesses instead of Tenterfields next week and Halesowen and Rowley Regis Tory MP James Morris, said he was "delighted" Cllr Sparks had quashed the "terrible idea" of closing the centres.
He added: "Nobody should pretend that there are any easy answers, because budgets are tight, but scrapping the vital services provided by children's centres was not the right way forward."
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