CONTROVERSIAL changes to children’s centres were voted through last night despite trade union opposition.
A shop steward was heckled by a senior councillor and had his microphone cut off during a debate about the plan at Huddersfield Town Hall yesterday.
Kirklees Council’s Labour cabinet unanimously backed the plan to cut £725,000 from the budget for the 32 Sure Starts next year.
However, an earlier proposal to mothball more than half the children’s centres in the district was abandoned after opposition from parents and staff.
Kirklees officials initially proposed saving money by running down services at 17 “associate” Sure Starts in richer parts of the district, forcing parents to travel to so-called “lead” centres for some types of support.
But the proposal was abandoned after 1,300 people took part in a consultation on the plan late last year.
Instead, Kirklees will continue to offer full services at all 32 centres – but management numbers will still be cut.
Cabinet member for children Clr Cath Harris spoke in favour of the new plan at yesterday’s meeting at Huddersfield Town Hall.
“There’s no doubt that we have to make significant savings,” said the Ashbrow Labour woman.
“As much as is possible has been done to minimise the impact, but the service can’t be left untouched.
“We anticipate that the majority of the savings will come through the streamlining of management.”
Kirklees Unison’s chief steward for education Mike Forster then tried to ask councillors a question about staffing levels at the children’s centres.
Cabinet member Clr Molly Walton heckled the trade unionist as he spoke, before council leader Clr Mehboob Khan cut off his microphone.
Unison chief steward Graham Paisley also spoke against the new plan at yesterday’s meeting.
“The proposals remain substantially the same, with 15 centres doing the work of 32,” he said.
“The proposal still seems to be that 17 centres will not be fully operational.
“You’re proposing to cut £725,000 from the budget, but the detail of how you’re going to save that is not there.
“The proposals are seemingly dishonest.”
Clr Harris disagreed, telling the Unison members: “Nowhere has it been said that we’re not keeping children’s centres fully operational.”
Clr Khan added that “all political groupings” on Kirklees had agreed on the need to cut management costs at children’s centres to help the council cope with the public spending squeeze.
“The intention is to keep all children’s centres open and work with communities to find new ways to deliver the service,” said the Greenhead Labour man.
The cabinet unanimously backed the spending cut of £725,000 for 2012/13.
New children’s centre management groupings:
Each of the 32 children’s centres in Kirklees currently has its own manager.
The council will merge the running of Sure Starts, meaning a manager will have responsibility for up to four children’s centres.
The manager for each grouping will be based in the Sure Start with the most appropriate space and facilities for administration.
The groupings are:
Almondbury, Huddersfield Central and Newsome
Birkby and Paddock
Chestnut Centre at Deighton
Golcar and Lindley
Slaithwaite and Meltham
Denby Dale, Holmfirth and Grange Moor
Dewsbury Moor and Ravensthorpe
Chickenley and Eastborough
Birstall, Gomersal and Liversedge
Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike
Batley Central, Batley East, Carlinghow and Staincliffe
Savile Town, Thornhill and Thornhill Lees