CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to unleash an army of mums with prams after pleas to save children's centres from council cuts were ignored by council chiefs yesterday.

Angry parents, trade unionists and carers joined forces to protest at unprecedented cuts to jobs and services made by ruling Tories at Hampshire County Council.

They converged on county hall as councillors met to slash £55m from the council's annual budget.

Some councillors sneaked through the back door to avoid facing the mums. A similar number of council security guards stood by in hi-vis jackets.

Two campaigning mums, Catherine Ovenden and Kate Reynolds, were allowed into the council chambers to plead with councillors over the future of Sure Start centres. Mrs Ovenden broke down in tears.

The pair have collected tens of thousands of signatures in protest at plans to reduce the number of the children's centres from 81 to 53 to save £6m.

Council leader Ken Thornber unveiled a new county embossed lectern to deliver what he called "my budget" as he spent an hour confirming vital cuts to services for the elderly, the disabled and the young on top of almost 1,200 job losses as a union drummer banged away outside.

He insisted the council “must take the pain early” to avoid four years of successive cuts and plunging staff morale and help fix the country's “shattered” economy.

As previously revealed in the Daily Echo, day care and residential homes for the adults with learning disabilities will close along with youth projects and some Sure Start children's centres. One quarter of senior managers, about 138 jobs, will be axed, mostly next month, as well as hundreds of youth workers, nurses and carers.

But leader Ken Thornber also promised more money for children's social workers, to reinstate some grant cuts to voluntary organisations, and extend free bus travel for the elderly to start at 9am. He added he would cut the council's communications spending by £1m.

The £715m budget, excluding schools, that was agreed by Tory councillors yesterday will see council tax will be pegged at £1,037 for a typical band D property. Councillor allowances will also be frozen for another year.

Cllr Thornber insisted the "vast majority" of Sure Start centre savings would be through mergers not closures.

Education boss councillor Roy Perry said no decisions would be made until after a consultation, which ends of March 14. The cuts don't affect Southampton and Portsmouth.

But Lib Dem group leader councillor Keith House called it a "sham" and said the cuts were ideological and deeper than needed. He accused Cllr Thornber of stashing away funds in reserves for election giveaways in two years time.

A Lib Dem amendment to soften the cuts was defeated.

Conservative councillors later faced a demonstration of up to 40 trade unionists.

Elsewhere protestors were out in force in Lyndhurst over the closure-threatened Seedlings Children's Centre in Brockenhurst.

Mrs Reynolds, 32, from Bursledon, said: "I feel really angry and disappointed councillors didn't have the courage to stand up to the cuts I felt we voiced the concerns of all parents in Hampshire but it fell on deaf ears. It's just going to make us fight harder".

She said a mums march and rally was being planned, and she planned to meet with Cllr Perry.

“If two of us made no impact then we are going to have to meet them in force,” she said.

Regional Unison secretary Phil Wood said: "Once you merge two centres, one closes. These aren't mergers. These are closures."

He added: "Poor people, local people, a whole range of people will be penalised by the decisions being taken by the council."