On Thursday, Sefton councillors will vote on which services they are going to cut in response to the cuts which the government has forced them to make.
One of the proposed cuts is the closure of all five of the Sure Start Children's Centres in Sefton Central.
The leader of the council and leader of the Lib Dem group of councillors is Tony Robertson. He is also leader of Maghull Town Council and has written to parents in Maghull who use Hudson Children's Centre in Moorhey Road to say: “If Council Officers are right then the Council could only keep the Phase 2 and 3 Centres open by ceasing funding elsewhere within the Council and moving the money to fund the Centres. However, the Council has already made savings of £26m for the 2011/12 year and it needs to make a further £17m for that same year to balance its books. It is for this reason that senior officers have said there will be no money to run the Phase 2 and 3 Centres.”
In my view, councillors should make the Children's Centres in Maghull, Crosby, Aintree and Formby its top priority.
The centres provide services to families in Melling and Lydiate and listening to parents, grandparents and carers it is clear that the Children's Centres are often the only place they can go for support for everything including pre-natal, post-natal and health care. The people I have spoken to are often isolated and don’t have family nearby to help them. Many have built strong friendships at the Children's Centres and many have nowhere else to go.
All the evidence shows that children whose families use Children's Centres are far better prepared for school. They learn to mix with other children at the Children's Centre and develop the social skills and other life skills that set them up for life. Teenagers who attended the first Children's Centres which opened 10 or 12 years ago are making far better progress and are mostly better adjusted as both at school and in preparing for adulthood.
One parent at Hudson Children’s Centre told me: “I am a mum to two small pre-school children and consider the Children's Centre an integral part of my life. I was delighted when the centre first opened shortly after having my first child. It soon became my lifeline opening doors to new friendships and experiences. We enrolled for all the sessions available to us and thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with other parents and carers. The staff are all so very caring and helpful making us all feel like part of their family.
"We still regularly attend the centre and feel distraught at the thought that this may come to an end if funding is cut. Not only would my children lose their valuable educational activities but I would also lose my support network. I plead with Sefton Council to carefully consider their actions regarding this matter as I feel that our local community would be left devastated.”
And Suzanne Bentham uses Thornton Children's Centre. She wrote to me to say, “Thornton Children's Centre is an essential part of my life, firstly I went with my partner for my anti natal classes then with my daughter who loves all the activities she does there. The staff and amenities are wonderful but most of all the atmosphere is the best bit, if I'm feeling a little house bound we can pop in and join in or just chat. We attend most days. We have met so many people from all walks of life all with stories or offers of help when you need it most. It's NOT just a play centre it's a life line and without it an awful lot of people, families and children will miss out on valuable skills to help throughout their lives , you see EVERY CHILD MATTERS ........ ! “
The support that children receive in their first five years is crucial. It makes all the difference and prevents many children and families having difficulties later in life. That’s why Children’s Centres were set up by the last government. It’s why Sure Start matters.
There is cross party recognition and widespread acknowledgement that Children's Centres are crucial in the development of children and in the support for families. I am pressing the government to make sure the money is there for Sefton to keep its Children’s Centres.
I also have written to the Chief Executive of Sefton Council to urge the councillors to Save our Children’s Centres for the sake of the next generation. This should not be a political issue it is common sense. The Labour Group is supporting the Children’s Centres and I hope the other groups on Sefton Council do so too.