A PROTEST group has been launched in a bid to save seven children’s centres in Bury from being closed and converted into nurseries for two-year-olds.

The proposals, part of a widespread Bury Council shake-up of childcare services, could also mean that, while some other centres will stay open, children from better-off families would not be able to attend.

The plans have provoked a war of words among politicians and led to the formation of the Save Bury Children's Centres group on Facebook and Twitter.

Representatives of the group were due to stage a demonstration outside Bury Town Hall last night ahead of a cabinet meeting to discuss the controversial issue.

Last week, it was revealed the Labour-controlled authority was proposing to save £828,000 by shedding 11 full-time staff and converting seven children’s centres into nurseries for eligible children aged two.

The sites, six of which are based at primary schools, are located at Ramsbottom; Daisyfield and Moorside, in Bury; High Meadow and Stepping Stones, in Radcliffe; Butterstile in Prestwich; and Toodle Hill in Whitefield.

The government is making Bury Council offer free 15 hours of nursery care for 38 weeks a year to 1,177 two-year-olds. But there is a shortfall of 687 places.

The local authority would not directly run the provision for two-year-olds but aims to tender each service to providers, such as schools.

Bury has 14 children’s centres. Under the proposals, however, there will be five children’s centre hubs and one “spoke” which will deliver targeted services to the most vulnerable families and focus on improving health, child development and families’ economic prospects.

The five proposed hubs and one “spoke” will be:

  • Woodbank with Elton Children’s Centre, Bury, covering the reach areas of the children’s centres currently operating in Tottington, Ramsbottom, Daisyfield.
  • Little Oaks Children’s Centre, Bury, covering the reach area of Moorside.
  • Redvales, a “spoke” children’s centre under the management of Little Oaks.
  • Coronation Road, Radcliffe, covering the reach areas of High Meadow and Stepping Stones.
  • Besses, Whitefield, covering the existing reach area
  • Sedgley, covering the reach areas of Toodle Hill, Butterstile.

Referring to the possibility of adult care centres in Bury being privatised, Bury Council’s Conservative group leader, Cllr Iain Gartside, said: “Once again, this Labour administration is looking to privatise services to our most deprived and vulnerable people in our borough.

“In the latest case, they are looking to save £820,000 by tendering out childcare services for two-year-olds. After they promised the people of Bury that all services would be kept in-house under a Labour council, they should now apologise for breaking that promise.”

Lib Dem representative Cllr Tim Pickstone said: “For a Labour-run council to massacre the children’s centre programme like it is proposing is amazing.”

Stacy Blinkhorn, of Crompton Close, Radcliffe, a Save Bury Children’s Centre supporter, said: “My partner and I take our 15-month-old son, Thomas, to the Stepping Stones, High Meadow and Coronation Road children’s centres.

"We’ve been to all three because they do different things at different times. But two of them could be closed and our choice will be reduced.”

The council’s children’s representative, Cllr Gill Campbell said: “Children’s centres in Bury have been very effective in delivering both a universal and a targeted service, but have increasingly found that this has meant that children and families most in need have not always benefited from the good service they provide.

“As resources for children’s centres continue to reduce due to government funding reductions, the risk to vulnerable families gets greater. These proposals aim to put the needs of the most vulnerable first.”

If the proposals are approved, a 12-week consultation will begin with a final decision expected by December.

The full proposal report can be read at tinyurl.com/buryunder5s