A proposal to shut two centres set up to give children from poor backgrounds the best start in life has been slammed by nearly all of Epsom’s parliamentary candidates - although the constituency’s Tory candidate has said he cannot criticise Surrey County Council (SCC) for having to take "tough decisions".

Conservative-run SCC has said a £23.5m cut from Government funding has left it needing to cut eight out of the county’s 58 Sure Start centres - including the Meadow Children’s Centre in Stoneleigh and the Sure Start centre in Ashtead, which opened in 2010 and 2008 respectively.

No dates have been given for closure of the SCC-funded centres, but a spokesman said a consultation on the plans is due to begin in the summer.

Sure Start centres were launched by the Labour Government in 1998, aiming to reduce child poverty and designed to give children "the best possible start in life".

They provide support for parents during early childhood and offer health sessions, parenting courses, dad days, advice on domestic abuse and other essential facilities.

An SCC spokesman said: "With £23.5m being cut from our government funding this year we're having to make some very tough decisions.

"And while no final decision has yet been taken we are looking at the possibility of reducing the number of children's centres from 58 to 50, but we remain committed to providing first-class children's services and believe this would still be possible should the proposals go ahead."

Epsom and Ewell’s parliamentary candidates have almost unanimously urged SCC to axe the proposal.

Labour’s Sheila Carlson said: "It’s a really good resource for parents, a great source of knowledge.

"The terrible cuts in local government finances mean Surrey, as an authority, are cutting various things.

"But where does it go next? You’re now looking at cutting children’s centres, it’s already agreed on the closure of care homes.

"You’re not now looking around the edges to the services it’s nice to have.

"They are fundamentally vital services which they are looking to cut.

"It’s a very worrying trend."

Liberal Democrat Steve Gee said the move was another example of Conservatives "only being interested in their own and ignoring the most vulnerable and disadvantaged".

He said: "Budgets are tight but to close such a vital service for the most vulnerable in society defies believe.

"Sure Start centres have been credited with changing the face of children and family services, identifying disadvantaged children and families and providing targeted support.

"It is frightening the effects of the next round of ideological Conservative benefit cuts may have on the poorest in society if they are allowed to continue unchecked.

"The county council should think again and review budgets in other areas."

UKIP candidate Robert Leach said he believed this to be a "purely cost-cutting measure" and could not support the closure of the valuable centres "when SCC has not identified alternatives nor looked seriously at reducing its bureaucracy".

The Green party’s Susan McGrath, a therapist, said she opposed the closures because the Sure Start centres were essential to provide support for early childhood problems "so they don’t carry on down the line".

Conservative Chris Grayling, who has been Epsom’s MP since 2001, said although he hopes the centres can stay open by becoming volunteer-led, he could not criticise SCC for putting forward its proposal.

He said: "Given the tough financial climate for the public sector, I can’t criticise one of our councils for taking a difficult decision but I would like them to explore whether there’s an opportunity to turn the Sure Start centres into volunteer-led organisations similar to what Surrey has done with its libraries.

"Surrey has been very imaginative in creating community libraries."

"These are never easy decisions and the purpose of Sure Start centres was always to work with those from the most deprived backgrounds.

"I’m sure the county council has looked at that in taking the decision."

Asked whether he understood concerns that his Government’s policies had disproportionately affected the least well-off in society, Mr Grayling said: "I don’t think that’s right.

"We have cut taxes for a very large number of people on low pay.

"It’s convenient political rhetoric for those who are the biggest beneficiaries of the income tax relief."

When asked how much money SCC was looking to save through the potential closures, how much money the county's Sure Start centres cost to run, and the criteria used to select the eight threatened centres, a spokeswoman said it was unable to provide a response. 

Residents’ Association Surrey County Councillor John Beckett, who represents Ewell, said he intends to fight the potential closure of the Meadow Children’s Centre and is encouraging "all parents and supporters to write in when the consultation starts to show the council how much this facility means to our community".

He said SCC has said that the selection criteria for identifying the centres for closure was based on three factors - deprivation against affluence, effectiveness and location to other centres.

Darren Dale, who is standing for re-election in May as an Epsom councillor representing Stoneleigh said: "Let me express my concern about the closure of this much-valued and needed resource.

"I can assure all users of this centre, as well as the residents of Stoneleigh, I will do everything I can to prevent their closure. 

"While we all appreciate the need for consideration of cost-cutting within the county, I, like my borough councillor candidates for Stoneleigh, will oppose these closures in the same way as we opposed, and won, the introduction of parking charges in Stoneleigh Broadway and the closure of Stoneleigh Library with a coordinated public response. 

"For those that are more interested in party rhetoric it is not a question of party politics but a question of what is best for the residents of Stoneleigh."