By refusing to commit to keeping the centres open, the ruling Conservative group on Nottinghamshire County Council – supported by the Mansfield Independent Forum (MIF) – could put 58 Ofsted-approved centres at risk across the county, including 12 in Ashfield and neighbouring Mansfield, which provide free, safe and professional childcare to deprived families.
In a stormy full county council meeting the motion, proposed by Councillor Tom Hollis, of Ashfield Independents, pledged to protect all centres across Nottinghamshire, but was denied.
Coun Hollis said that if the leaders do not pledge to save them 11 out of 12 centres in Mansfield and Ashfield areas are likely to close.
Coun Stephen Garner (pictured), Mansfield Independent Forum leader on Nottinghamshire County Council, said despite backing their coalition partners he would fight to keep Sure Start centres open.
He said: “I am all for Sure Start. We are in a coalition with the Conservatives but we are not whipped and if and when this comes to the table we will look at it on its merits but I will want reassurances that the Sure Starts in Mansfield will be looked after.
“It may be that there are council officers looking at closing the Sure Starts, but the fact is that as an authority we have to make savings and we will be looking at a lot of services. But closing Sure Starts hasn’t come to the table, and when it does I will be fighting their corner.”
Across the country more than 350 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010.
It was set up by the Labour government in the 1990s to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds before they started school.
The children’s centres provide a variety of services including day care, health care and nutrition and parent and toddler sessions for families with children under the age of five. The move was slammed by Labour councillors on the authority.
Mansfield West Labour councillor Diana Meale said: ““One of the Sure Start centres in my area is very well used and important for the families and people there.
“One of the things they said in the meeting was that it was about the children and they would provide nurseries to somehow replace them. But the problem is about families needing support.”
Mansfield North councillor Joyce Bosnjak tweeted: “Selling Mansfield short. Shame on Mansfield Independents as they risk the future of Sure Start centres by toadying to their Tory bosses.”