‘Disaster for families’ as city’s nurseries left facing the chop

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AN ELEVENTH-hour protest by furious campaigners was to no avail yesterday, as plans to make £7m of cuts to children’s services in Sheffield were agreed.

Protesters waved placards and chanted outside Sheffield Town Hall prior to the cabinet committee meeting in a last-ditch attempt to convince the authority not to restructure the city’s nurseries and children’s centres, a move which will see many nurseries closed and staff made redundant.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Education Secretary Michael Gove were no-shows at the meeting, after being challenged to attend by councillors on the Labour-led authority, which claims it is being forced to make the cuts to its early years services budget in response to Government demands that it save £50m in 2012/13.

The cuts agreed yesterday will see Sheffield’s 36 SureStart centres reorganised into 17 “hub centres”, with the rest downgraded into “outreach” sites.

A total of 20 nurseries which are currently subsidised by Sheffield Council will have their cash cut off from April 1 this year.

Sally Pearse, project director at the Tinsley Parents and Children’s Consortium charity, which operates a 60-place day nursery that will be forced to close, said the decision was a “fait accompli.”

Ms Pearse, who is preparing to send out 23 redundancy notices to staff, said: “We’ve got a significant shortfall in our rent - in the region of £78,000 - and we can’t afford to stay open long-term.

“We’re the only nursery in the area, and there’s simply not enough places.

“This is a disaster for families. Ultimately, central Government is to blame for the cuts that are hitting families that have already suffered under austerity, but locally, the council has not listened.

“They have refused to take on board our argument.”

The proposals agreed yesterday were announced last December, as a response to save the money Sheffield is losing in Government funding for early years education.

Campaign group Save Sheffield Early Years, set up in opposition to the plans, said they would have “a devastating effect in the most deprived areas of the city.”

Coun Jackie Drayton, Sheffield’s children’s services spokesman, said the Government was making “devastating and unfair cuts to our funding for early years services.”

Yesterday afternoon, a Department of Education spokesman said that Mr Gove had no plans to be in Sheffield for the key meeting.

They added: “Sheffield has been allocated £5.4m for the early education of two year olds in 2013-14.

“We are increasing early intervention funding in England to £2.4bn in 2013-14 and to £2.5bn in 2014-15.

“Councils have the freedom to spend this where it is needed most.”