Trade union Unison is pleading with the Town Hall to think again on cuts to children’s services in the borough, warning that it will “destroy the life chances” of Camden children.
One campaigner, holding her child in her arms as she made her deputation to councillors, warned of the impact on children with SEND, with Gospel Oak, Hampden, Kilburn Grange and Konstam children’s centres all dubbed “irreplaceable”.
Camden has now finished consulting on whether to convert the centres into SureStart facilities directed at disadvantaged parents in the borough, as the council continues to struggle with a surplus of places.
A campaigner making the deputation said: “How can Camden be trying to get mothers like myself into work, but removing the safe spaces where the children will be cared for?
“If the birth rate in Camden has really fallen, then there won’t be enough children to fill the SureStart centres that are being proposed, so this is really just a money-saving exercise.
“The true mark of a good society is how it treats the most vulnerable. Children are not freight. They cannot be moved like shipments to be dumped from place to place.”
In claims that were not addressed by the council, Unison claimed there had been an unspent £1.5m in the relevant department’s budget in the previous year, with £2m left unspent the year before.
Hugo Pierre of Unison said: “All councillors will have seen the budgets for the last couple of years. The Supporting People department in 2018, by the end of that year, was a close to £2m underspend in that budget.
“Even if there wasn’t the money there currently, we would say to councillors, join with us in a fight to get more money for these services, which are based primarily in deprived areas of the council. The council should not be bowing to the Tory cuts and the austerity agenda.”
Unison added that they are “definitely in favour” of proposals which would see nurseries and schools working together to offer children places, a move that the cabinet member for best start in life Cllr Angela Mason welcomed.
The education boss pointed to the fact that the borough currently has 80 providers all competing for the same group of children, a position she argued “doesn’t really make sense”, and called for a new community approach whereby all organisations work together to improve outcomes for children.
Cllr Mason added: “I don’t think there is one solution for every nursery. What we are looking at is finding solutions that do suit the different circumstances of the different nurseries, the different factors that affect nurseries and schools in all the different areas.
“If this was all about cuts, we’d be thinking about cutting the Camden Offer, which is a guarantee that all parents of three and four year olds will have access to thirty hours of education. It’s quite expensive and costs over £1m, but we’re committed to that promise for all children.
“I am conscious that this is a difficult, quite big thing to do. I have committed to what I call the ‘As Good’ principle, that nobody should have new provision which is not as good as what they had before and that is an absolute commitment, and in that vein, I hope we can all make a commitment to have future discussions on what are the right solutions for the nurseries in your area.”