CHILDREN’S centres across Oxfordshire are under threat of closure as part of a radical shake-up to save more than £6m.

The county council said it could no longer afford to support all of the county’s 44 centres due to ongoing budget cuts.

To save cash over the next three years, it has proposed creating a single service that would cover youngsters up to the age of 19.

Melinda Tilley, county council cabinet member for children and families, said no decisions had yet been made but confirmed all centres were at risk.

She said: “We have had to think about how we deliver our services with less money but make them better.”

The authority runs 44 children’s centres and seven early intervention hubs, but yesterday would not rule out closures or job losses among more than 433 staff.

Children’s centres offer activities for under-fives and information and support for parents.

Early intervention hubs, introduced in 2011, are designed to bring together services supporting children and families, targeting drug and alcohol use, teenage pregnancies and school exclusions, as well as youth unemployment.

Mum-of-two Camilla Preece, 32, helps to run Wallingford Baby Bar at the town’s Ridgeway Church, which supports breastfeeding mums. She said some mums who attended the weekly group also attended Wallingford Children’s Centre in Wilding Road.

Ms Preece, who lives in Wallingford, said: “If children’s centres close they will be badly missed.

“It’s very difficult being stuck at home with children – it can be very isolating and children’s centres offer very good support.

“A lot of families would be affected by the closures including some of the more disadvantaged.”

Mrs Tilley added: “There is quite a bit of duplication of services, so we need a more joined-up approach. We want to talk to everyone about these proposals, but we have to make sure we continue to support the areas with the highest need.”

Many children’s centres faced closure in 2013, but the proposal was scrapped after 15,000 people and most county MPs objected.

But now a cross-party panel has said the current situation was “not sustainable” and that centres should be prioritised based on local need, as well as location.

The five-person panel has carried out the first major review of the centres since they were opened a decade ago.

Mrs Tilley, who was the panel chairman, said the proposed merged service would aim to prevent duplication and work more with community groups, schools and charities to save cash.

Centres would be based in areas with the most families in need, but the council also stressed it would spread them out so rural areas were not left without provision.

Parents behind the former Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres group have vowed to revive their campaign, while last month the Oxford Parent Infant Project, which provides therapy, also said further cuts to children’s centres would be “short-sighted”.

The review by the cross-party panel said families most in need of the centres were mainly in Oxford, but also in Banbury, Abingdon, Bicester, Didcot and Witney.

In Oxford, the south and east of the city were found to have the most deprivation.

Andrew Smith, Oxford East MP, said: “It would be socially damaging and a false economy if more children and young people are held back in deprivation and troubled lives as a result, because the long term human and economic costs of that are huge.”

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood added: “Children’s Centres support families at a crucial time in their lives and I will fight to ensure that support continues in my constituency. ”

Organisations will be consulted on the changes, with a public consultation in the autumn.

The council’s cabinet will vote on the principal of the changes next Tuesday.

The council has agreed to reduce its £16m budget for children’s centres and early intervention hubs by 2018. It is part of savings of £284m planned, but councillors say more may be needed in the face of further Government cuts expected next year.