CAMPAIGNERS have breathed a sigh of relief after Dudley Council bosses announced they were scrapping a controversial plan to axe seven borough children’s centres.
Parents concerned about the plan, which was drawn up to help save £2.3m, had launched fast and furious campaigns at each of the centres threatened with closure.
As a result of the public outcry Dudley’s council leader, councillor David Sparks OBE, made a shock u-turn yesterday (Tuesday) and ditched all plans to close Hob Green, Peter’s Hill, Quarry Bank, Wordsley, Kingswinford and Wall Heath, Gornal and Tenterfields children’s centres.
He said instead savings would be found elsewhere within the children’s services department.
Campaigner Heather Cheslin, who was spearheading the fight to save Hob Green Children’s Centre in Pedmore, said of the news: “We’re absolutely over the moon. I’m quite stunned at the moment. Everybody’s worked so hard; we’re really, really pleased.”
Kyra Hill, vice chairman of the Quarry Hill Children’s Centre’s Parent’s Voice group, said: “I’m still in shock. Keeping the centre open means the support is still there for the community. People can still walk in and get advice as and when they need it.”
Cllr Sparks said the council’s consultation had shown “a tsunami of popular support” for the centres and he added: “People have made it very clear that children’s centres are an important function of the community and I see no reason why families should be in a state of anxiety over a vital service to them.
"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."
The Labour-run council blames cuts by central government for a shortfall in its budgets and Cllr Sparks is urging Westminster politicians to loosen their purse strings.
He said: “I hope our MPs will join me in focussing on the government to lobby for more funding to tackle the £60million worth of cuts we face."
He added that the council would still be pressing ahead with plans to restructure the 20 children’s centres across the borough, so the consultation process will continue until the planned deadline date of January 3.
Cllr Tim Crumpton, Dudley’s cabinet member for children’s services, said the council had already received a great deal of feedback on how the centres benefit the communities they serve and he added: “We have been listening to what people have been telling us.”
Campaigners say despite the stay of execution for the centres – they will continue to campaign on behalf of services provided by the centres and the staff who run them.
Hob Green centre user Heather Cheslin, aged 36, said: “It’s not over for me. I’ll be carrying on campaigning to keep the staff where they’re needed because of the relationships they’ve built up with people.
“The centres will be open and for that we’ll be eternally grateful but we need support workers to stay with the mums in their communities.
“There’s a lots of people mid way through important journeys in their lives. They can’t just pull the rug out from under their feet; that would be devastating. “ The Quarry Bank campaign group had planned a peaceful protest in the form of a buggy march tomorrow (Friday). The event will go ahead but instead of lobbying the council to rethink the plans, parents will be armed with placards thanking them. They will walk from the centre at 11.45am up and down High Street before returning at around 12.30pm.
A planned protest outside Peters Hill Children's Centre, Amblecote, at 11.30am on Wednesday (December 4) will also be turned into a celebration.
Mum-of-two, Rebecca Jeavons who was “overjoyed” to hear the centres had been saved, said although parents will be celebrating she will still encourage people who attend to fill in consultation forms.
She said: “For the foreseeable future the centres are safe but in a couple of years time, after the elections, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Budget cuts are going to have to be made, jobs could still be lost, so we still need as many consultation forms filled in as possible, the council still need proof.”