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Parents quiz council leader over child centre cutbacks
Buy this photo » Anxious parent Lewis Willing, below holding his son Ralph OX62858 David Fleming
PARENTS in Wantage quizzed county council leader Ian Hudspeth over the proposed closure of Oxfordshire children’s centres.
They took the chance to question Mr Hudspeth at a public meeting on Monday after it was revealed last week that 37 out of the county’s 44 children’s centres could be closed.
Members of the 150-strong audience at the council’s ‘cuts roadshow’ at the Civic Hall heard the local authority needs to save £61m by 2018 because of a 10 per cent cut in the grant it receives from central Government.
County council chief executive Joanna Simons was also questioned on the possible closure of the children’s centres at Wantage, Grove, the Hanneys and Faringdon.
Mr Hudspeth told the meeting: “It is an incredible amount of money to take out of the system.
“These cuts will have an impact and we have to make those decisions as fairly as possible across the county.”
The council was already budgeting to save £74m by 2018 and is now ‘brainstorming’ on how to save the extra £61m after new cuts were announced in the summer.
Many at the meeting demanded to know more about the proposed closure of the children’s centres.
One of them, Lewis Willing, who brought his seven-month-old son Ralph to the meeting, said the council needed to take into account the effect that 5,000 new homes due to be built in Wantage and Grove would have on the demand for services.
Mr Willing, 29, said: “The children’s centres in Wantage are very important to me and my wife.
“We are new to the area and they allowed my wife to build new relationships and pick up hints and tips. It has been a massive resource for us.”
Mr Hudspeth said that population growth in Wantage and Grove would be taken into consideration.
Mother-of-two Dominique Hill told Mr Hudspeth how the children’s centres in Grove and Wantage had provided a lifeline when she was suffering from depression and her husband Darren was away serving in the Army.
Mrs Hill, 39, said: “These groups played a huge part in my well-being.”
She said she had seen the benefit to her sons, Toby and Callum, who are now aged three and one.
Mr Hudspeth promised that the council had not made any decisions on the cuts and that no children’s centres would close before consultation took place.
When the cuts roadshow visited Oxford last week, 90 per cent of people present voted in favour of increasing council tax to cover the £61m.
But, in a straw poll on Monday night, only 40 per cent said they would vote for a rise.
Mr Hudspeth also warned that if the council wanted to increase council tax above the two per cent ceiling imposed by the Government, it would have to prepare two budgets and hold a referendum at a cost of about £500,000 – money which, he said, could be better spent on services.
Wantage county councillor Jenny Hannaby said: “With all these new houses coming at once, we will need a proper network for these new residents, like children’s centres.”
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