STAFF at community centres are calling for a rethink on plans which put their caretakers’ jobs on the line.
The future of 26 posts at 24 venues across County Durham is being considered by Durham County Council after Government cuts, with a 90-day consultation now underway.
The Government’s actions have been criticised by centre leaders who have branded the Conservative’s Big Society initiative “a joke” claiming its efforts to reduce the deficit have hit the very communities it is aiming to empower.
Among the centres involved are Eastlea in Seaham, Dawdon, Murton, Hawthorn, Pittington Village Hall, Framwellgate Moor, Great Lumley and Wingate.
Eastlea is at risk of losing £16,000, with £13,000 of that from its caretaker’s wage.
Bosses say they will struggle to plug the gap, as charities and grant-makers will not offer cash for roles previously paid for with Government money.
Campaigners have joined in consultation events at County Hall and launched a petition, which has already attracted 1,200 names.
Its youngest users have written letters backing the venue’s work, which is boosted with the help of 40 volunteers.
Both Seaham centres have sought the support of Easington MP Grahame Morris and councillors.
Julie Swaidan, Eastlea’s chief executive, said: “We know everyone’s got to take a hit.
“But the amount of additional learning which goes on here is huge. We had 1,000 learners through our doors last year, 400 got recognised qualifications.
“This decision has not been rubber stamped and we just hope they will reconsider.”
Mike Russell, manager of Dawdon Community Centre, said two workers have already been made redundant from its popular children’s adventure club.
He and four others at the centre, which is in one of the country’s most deprived areas, are on half-pay and another is due take a cut when funding for her post ends in August.
Mr Russell and other centre leaders say the council will save £280,000 by losing the posts. He says his venue and Eastlea raise £250,000 between them each year to keep running.
Mr Russell said: “We’ll be on shaky ground without this money.
“It just makes a joke of the Big Society.
“It’s always been here, we’ve done it for years, but the Coalition has come in and put a stop to it with these cuts.”
Gerald Tompkins, the council’s head of social inclusion, said it was working to help the centres continue in a sustainable way and looking for other ways to support them.
He added: “The council is having to make some extremely difficult decisions in order to reduce spending following the announcement of Government grant reductions.”
He said the cuts, along with reductions from the Skills Funding Agency which delivers adult learning, has led to the review.