Camden pushes ahead with plans to close Kilburn children’s centre despite protests

The council axes �3.2m from early years - the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Camden’s services

Mums, dads, babies in buggies, and teenagers were among the hundred or so protesters who descended on Camden town hall to demand that the authority rethink plans to axe two of its children’s centres – as the council executive voted to slash funding for children’s centres by �3.2million.

The Times reported in January on plans to close Acol children’s centre in Acol Road, Kilburn, which is one of only two centres in Camden rated Outstanding by the government inspectorate Ofsted. Caversham children’s centre in Kentish Town could also close.

Security guards hired in for the night watched over proceedings from the public gallery as a procession of families implored the council not to weld the axe on their centres - described by one councillor as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Camden’s services.

But despite the protests, council chiefs pushed ahead with ten per cuts in the early years budget – paving the way for the closures.

Leading a delegation of families pleading with the council not to close Acol, Penny Leichti, 38, of Solent Rd, Kilburn, criticised the council for failing to consider demand for nursery places or the quality of teaching and support when deciding which centres to close.

She said: “Acol is a thriving, high quality and consistently good centre, and its services for under-fives are crucial for working families.

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“Closure will be an irreversible step leaving a permanent gap in provision.”

The pregnant mum, whose 2-year-old daughter Eva goes to the nursery, warned the council that shutting the centre will ‘inevitably lead to fewer parents being able to work’, and urged it to consider raising nursery fees for the highest earners as an alternative revenue source.

Hugo Pierre, of Camden Unison, said the early year’s report which includes proposals to close Acol and Caversham children’s centres was ‘unbalanced’ and stressed that both centres were full and had long waiting lists.

He added: “Some of those joining the protest tonight will be under four because you are planning to lose their early years provision at Acol and Caversham.

“By taking the axe to these centres you are undermining the role of quality provision for children under four.”

Cllr Theo Blackwell, lead member for resources, acknowledged that the cuts will force some parents out of work.

He said: “We did try to protect the early years budget as it is the jewel in the crown at Camden. That is why the reduction in the early years budget is only 10 per cent.

“We do recognise that for many people in Camden a parent without childcare will be a parent without work. But we cannot protect it exclusively.”

Camden Council are chopping �91m from their budget over the next four years.

The cuts are subject to consultation. If they are approved, Acol will close in the summer of 2012.