THE mother and aunt of Prime Minister David Cameron have backed the campaign to save the county’s children’s centres.
Mary Cameron, 81, joined her sister Clare Currie to sign a petition calling on Conservative-led Oxfordshire County Council to abandon plans to shut its 44 centres.
West Berkshire-based Mrs Cameron yesterday said she was not directly involved with the campaign, but added: “Where children’s centres are needed, they are invaluable.”
She was persuaded to sign the petition by her sister, Mrs Currie, who lives in Oxford and is a staunch supporter of the centres.
The 78-year-old told the Oxford Mail she would be among protesters outside County Hall next Tuesday when councillors vote on the local authority’s budget.
She added: “The centres are absolutely essential. All the research shows they make life for children very much better. It is a false economy to cut them and absolutely wrong.”
- Five things you need to know in Oxfordshire today
- Management consultants Newton Europe named Business of the Year at 2016 Oxfordshire Business Awards
- Eating Weetabix and brown rice could help prevent an early death say experts
- VIDEO: Kerry Reeves' mother bravely faces her 'beautiful' daughter's killers in emotional tribute
- Prisons' shake-up will be at heart of today's Queen's Speech
Their support comes after Mr Cameron previously wrote to county council leader Ian Hudspeth – his Tory ally – to warn the closures would be “unwelcome and counter-productive”.
Mr Hudspeth answered by pointing to cuts of almost 40 per cent to its funding from the government since 2010.
Jill Huish, leader of the Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres campaign, called on Mr Cameron to intervene further and help reverse the funding cuts.
She said: “It shows how deep austerity is cutting our most vulnerable when even David Cameron’s mum has had enough.
“But while our local authority and our Prime Minister squabble over whose fault it is that there are 95 separate cuts planned for Oxfordshire, we are the people who will suffer without our frontline services.
“David Cameron’s constituents in Witney must feel so let down that every other speech from their MP seems to involve looking after families, yet he will stand by while his local children’s centres are closed down by the local Tory controlled authority.
“You couldn’t make it up.”
It came as the union Unite also confirmed more than 30 of its members who work for the county council at early intervention hubs – which would also close under cuts proposed – will join protesters next week.
Union officials balloted members for strike and won support from 86 per cent of members, who will walk out for 24 hours from midnight on February 16.
They say closing the children’s centres and intervention hubs will put 420 “highly skilled” jobs at risk.
Regional officer Chris Gray added: “The last thing our members want to do is take strike action. They are highly-skilled professionals and deeply committed to the children, young people and the families they work with, day in and day out.
“But they have decided that they cannot sit back and watch while the council destroys its top-class children’s early intervention service.”
A county council spokesman yesterday said: “Staff in our children’s centres and early intervention hubs work hard every day with the children and families of Oxfordshire.
“We readily acknowledge this and the concerns being expressed. However, strike action does not in any way change the financial situation facing the county council.
“Unite has less than 50 members working for children’s centres and early intervention hubs in Oxfordshire.”
The cuts to funding for children’s centres are part of £290m of savings planned since 2010, with councillors due to agree a further £69m.
In previous budgets councillors agreed to take £6m out of the early intervention fund by 2017/18, but the county council is now proposing to take a further £2m out to help establish a new service for young people aged up to 19.
This would be based out of eight centres and offer a referral-only service to the most vulnerable families.
Other new savings being proposed as part of the £69m savings would scrap mobile libraries and bus subsidies, as well as reduce funding for the arts, homeless support, road gritting, elderly day services and support for carers.