New hope in Edinburgh crèches fight

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CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save four closure-threatened crèches were given a fresh boost today after opposition councillors vowed to fight for a reduced cut in Edinburgh Leisure's budget.

The Labour group on the city council has confirmed that it will oppose plans to reduce the budget of the firm, which manages sports facilities on behalf of the city council, by 349,000.

It will instead propose a smaller budget cut in the hope that it could stop Edinburgh Leisure closing the four crches, at Ainslie Park, Drumbrae and Gracemount leisure centres, as well as Portobello Swim Centre.

The proposals are a boost to a campaign fighting to save the crches.

Councillor Paul Godzik, sport and leisure spokesman for the Labour group on the council, and also an Edinburgh Leisure board member, said: "They tell me that if they can stop such a large budget cut they can continue the service. We will be looking very carefully at the 349,000 cut to Edinburgh Leisure on the basis that we believe crche provision should continue.

"We are happy for Edinburgh Leisure and the council to look at how to make it more efficient, but ultimately we will make our budget proposal reflect that we want crche provision to continue."

Parents successfully fought to block plans to close the four crches last year, despite the council insisting they were an expensive burden on limited resources.

But Edinburgh Leisure last month announced that it again proposed to close the crches "in response to an anticipated reduction in funding of 12 per cent over the next three years".

The news led to the campaign to save the crches being reignited, with mothers claiming the crche closures will have a negative impact on their mental and physical health.

Many mothers with post-natal depression are recommended to use these facilities.

Mother-of-two Shairron Murray, 37, from Davidson's Mains, is one of the organisers of the campaign, which has held recent protests at each of the four crches and outside the City Chambers.

She said: "The council could make the cut not quite so dramatic or there is the hope that they could ring-fence some money because this is such an important issue and would put out such a bad message nationally about the city."

The campaign group is now looking to create a video of service users explaining why the crches should stay, to be posted on YouTube.

A motion was passed at a recent council meeting agreeing that the council would "work with Edinburgh Leisure, private organisations, not for profit groups and voluntary organisations to identify models to allow crche facilities to remain available".

It said that Edinburgh Leisure intends to meet with user groups in January to discuss any alternative means of providing the service.

Cllr Phil Wheeler, convener of the finance and resources committee, said: "No political decisions will be made on the suggestions proposed by officers until budget day on 11 February."