Vital funding for dozens of charities across Hertfordshire has been slashed after the county council was hit by central government budget cuts.

Hertfordshire County Council had awarded 47 children's groups grants worth thousands of pounds for a two-and-a-half year period, under the Prevention 513 scheme.

This funding was due to finish in March next but due “central government in-year financial savings”, it was agreed to end the grants three months early, in December, saving more than £300,000.

For Watford Mencap Children's Centre, based at the Lemarie Centre in St Albans Road, the decision means it will lose approximately £8,000, leading to the closure of its popular Saturday club that gives parents and carers valuable respite from looking after their disabled children.

Paul Murphy, father of five-year-old Christopher who has cerebral palsy, said: “Five hours on a Saturday means we can use power tools, mow the garden, decorate or visit locations that can’t accommodate wheelchairs. Just five hours makes such a difference to our lives.”

Ro Linton, children’s centre manager, added: “The impact on our families cannot be overestimated. This is a vital service which deserves priority, like all our services for disabled children.”

Funding manager Veronica Chamberlain, meanwhile, claimed the charity was not consulted by the council before the announcement was made.

“The process is scandalous,” she said. “It was pushed through extremely quickly with no consultation and the council is failing in its equality duty by discriminating against children who are already disadvantaged. The only thing they had available to them had been taken away.

“We hope the council will reconsider this decision which will devastate the families whom we support."

Another charity, Up on Downs, will also miss out on funding worth approximately £1,000.

The group, which was established more than four years ago, supports 120 families with children with Down's syndrome across Hertfordshire, but the grant was approved specifically to improve its service in Watford.

Chairman Julie Evens said: “It creates some uncertainty because we used the funding to employ one person for ten hours a week. Now we're going to have to find their salary from somewhere else.

“Suddenly it looks like we won't be able to employ them after March. That's what's disheartening. Having taken that step to employ somebody, now it's a backwards step that we might have to pull the plug on it.”

The decision, agreed by the Conservative-led county council alongside a reduction in the budgets for social worker training and tackling substance abuse among young people, was rejected by Liberal Democrats inside County Hall.

Councillor Malcolm Cowan said: “In a budget this size, it should not be difficult to find savings which would ensure that front line services are protected.”

A Hertfordshire County Council representative said: “The Prevention 513 Fund was a two-and-a-half year Hertfordshire initiative launched in 2008 after the Children's Fund ended.

“Funding through this scheme was due to end in March 2011, but unfortunately because of central government in-year financial savings, we had to review all centrally funded grants to children's services across the board.

“As Prevention 513 is government funded, it has reluctantly been agreed that the funding will end three months early, on December 31st.

“We have honoured our contracts with all 47 organisations we support by giving them six months notice of the change.

“We are also providing support and help to individual projects in looking for alternative funding where possible.”