Anxious parents have launched a bid to safeguard children’s centres that provide a ‘lifeline’ to families with babies and young children.
The 16 complexes, clustered around three hubs, provide outreach health, education, employment and benefits advice, and social activities.
But Harrow Council has said that one option to help the administration balance its books in 2015/16 is to ‘close or reduce some of the council’s early support services to families, including children’s centres’.
It is seeking the views of residents about the proposed cuts through its Take Part consultation, but has already given four centres a 'notice to quit' as a one-year notice is required before the property can be taken up by a new tennant.
Christy McGhee, 34, who takes her 16-month-old daughter, Claudia, to Pinner Children’s Centre, launched an online petition on Saturday calling on the council to keep the centres open. It had been signed by 116 people by this afternoon (October 29).
“These centres are important to thousands of parents and young families across the borough,” she said.
"As well as giving parents and children a chance to socialise, she said the centres have a vital role in educating people about how best to bring up their children.
"You learn about things such as child care and dental health.
"Nutrition experts come in to tell you how to wean your babies. It’s so important parents have somewhere they can go to speak to professionals and experts on child developments.”
But she fears the fate of the centres may already have been decided.
“One of the staff mentioned we may be getting a consultation form from the council through the post, but of the four options she had been shown, none of them involved keeping the [Pinner] centre open,” she said.
“I believe closing the centres will have a massive impact on parents and families in the area, who rely on it for support and information.”
A petition has been started by parents at Pinner Centre Pre-School, which is based at the Children’s Centre, against the proposed closures.
Reacting to the news that centres have been issued a notice to quit before the consultation has finished, Councillor Susan Hall, leader of the Conservative opposition, said: "This is proof that Labour have already made up their minds to close children’s centres.
"To make such a decision behind closed doors, while still pretending to consult, is a total betrayal of residents and exposes Labour’s consultation exercise once and for all as a meaningless stunt.”
The council is considering a range of cost-saving measures to plug a £75million gap in its finances.
Simon Brown, cabinet member for children, schools and young people said: “I am talking with individual pre-schools about the options that we are all facing together, and how we can work co-operatively in the future.
“No decisions have yet been taken. The council is taking precautionary measures across all the properties involved in the ‘Take Part’ consultation, because we need to make sure our providers are aware as possible of the potential consequences from the savings we are forced to make.
"A dedicated Children’s Centres consultation process begins in November, which the pre-schools will participate in fully.”
Petitions have also been set up by concerned people to persuade the council not to close either Harrow Museum and Heritage Centre or Harrow Arts Centre as part of the cuts.