BOLTON’S new town hall chief insists children’s centres will remain the council’s priority amid fears services for families are struggling nationally.

Analysis by education charity Sutton Trust has found that as many as 1,000 Sure Start centres around the country may have closed since 2009.

And the report also argues that the officially recorded 14 per cent drop may be only half of the true figure.

Bolton Council reformed its children’s centres in 2017 due to budgetary pressures.

Eight children’s centre buildings were transferred to schools which deliver a range of early years and childcare and community services.

And seven centres were retained and put new programmes in place, delivering services for children and families via the Start Well service, health partners and community groups.

Health visitors and midwives are already based in some start well hubs.

Bolton Council leader Linda Thomas said: “Start Well children’s services, formerly known as Children’s Centres. have always been a top priory for us, but with the colossal governments cuts of £155 million to the council overall, we have had to find innovative way to ensure the services survive.

“As promised, we have managed to protect all our satellite Start Well centre facilities, which are our smaller centres, based in the hearts of communities across the borough.

“It will be our priority to continue these services, that are so important to families, for as long as Labour is the majority voice on Bolton Council because to us every child matters.”

But Andrea Egan, Bolton Unison assistant branch chair, said it was “clear” services were not being provided at the same level.

She said: “They did close the centres, it’s semantics, it’s like saying ‘we’re not closing the library but you can’t take any books out.

“They gave them to schools to undertake provision . I understand they are making good use of that facility, but they are not providing all the services they used to do.”

Ms Egan says the centres prevented families from getting into “crisis” and there is a link to the increase in children being placed in care.She said: “I don’t think it’s completely fair to blame the local council, they have had some very difficult choices to make.

But also I don’t think they can hide from the fact there is a connection to the rise in number of looked after children when you cut preventative services for families.”