Hackney MP defends mayor and council over plans to shut two children’s centres

Hackney South MP Meg Hillier. Photograph: UK Parliament

Local MP Meg Hillier has defended Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley over the council’s decision to take the axe to early years budgets.

The savings plan includes the closures of two children’s centres, Fernbank and Sebright, which has sparked vocal opposition from families.

“I know that Woodley doesn’t want to close children’s centres,” Hillier told parents outside Sebright last Saturday.

“She is the last person who would want to be making this kind of decision.”

The Labour MP for Hackney South added: “But the council have faced years of central government cuts and they’ve got to balance the books, and in doing that, they have to make really hard choices.”

One parent accused the council of “blame-passing”.

Hiller committed to raising parents’ questions “directly” with Mayor Woodley.

She also apologised for her own lack of communication about the issue.

Standing in Haggerston Park, parents asked why decisions on closures must be made by September and cannot wait until after general election.

They said a Labour government could provide more funding and security for local services.

When this was put to Mayor Woodley at last month’s cabinet meeting, she responded: “A Labour government in the future won’t guarantee the future of all 20 children’s centres [in Hackney].”

Hillier told parents that she would put this question to Woodley again.

Campaigner Beatrice Hackett told Hillier: “We want to engage with Hackney Council. We’re presenting ourselves to you as willing participants, but we’re being met with hostility from the council, and all conversation is shut down.”

Hackett presented the MP with graphs and figures, put together by campaigners, which suggest alternatives to the closures or privatisation of Fernbank and Sebright.

Hacknett said: “Sebright has the creativity within to provide their services on little money – they’ve had a flat subsidy for 13 years and are still providing brilliant care to our children and making ends meet.

“And now, what we’re asking is for the council to provide them with that assistance, and for the council to adopt that same creative thinking.”

When approached by the Citizen, Hillier would not comment on the closure of Fernbank, which is not in her constituency, but said she will be putting every question asked by parents to the mayor.

She also said she would lobby the mayor to try to find a reasonable alternative.