Sure Start centres hit by cuts

28 Jan 11
Hundreds of Sure Start children's centres are at risk of closing within the year, while thousands will have to cut back on staff and services, children's campaigners are warning

By Vivienne Russell

28 January 2011

Hundreds of Sure Start children’s centres are at risk of closing within the year, while thousands will have to cut back on staff and services, children’s campaigners are warning.

A survey of Sure Start centre managers conducted by the charities 4Children and the Daycare Trust found that 250 (7%) of the centres are expected to close over the next 12 months; 2,000 (56%) will provide a reduced service; 3,100 (86%) will have a decreased budget; and at 1,000 centres (28%) some staff have been issued with ‘at risk of redundancy’ notices.

Sure Start centres provide child care and early learning services for families with pre-school age children, as well as advice and guidance on parenting.

The charities today called on councils to prioritise funding for the centres. Although Sure Start’s budget was protected in cash terms in the Comprehensive Spending Review, the ringfencing has been removed.

Anne Longfield, 4Children chief executive, said: ‘We know that local authorities have some extremely difficult spending decisions to make but investment now will lead to real long-term savings in the longer term.

‘Local authorities need to find new ways to ensure Sure Start children’s centres “earn their keep” by allowing them to become genuine hubs for all children and families services in communities; reducing replication and improving impacts. Voluntary and community organisations stand ready to help councils find innovative solutions to these funding dilemmas.’

Anand Shukla, acting chief executive of the Daycare Trust, echoed these sentiments.

He said: ‘We understand local authorities have difficult decisions to make, but an investment in children and families is an investment in our society and in our future. Rather than close down these vital family services, we call upon local authorities to pursue all possible options for the sustainable delivery of these services.’

But a Local Government Association spokeswoman told Public Finance that the overall early intervention grant to councils had been reduced by 27%. Sure Start funding forms one element of this grant.

‘The early intervention pot has been reduced and councils have to do more with a lot less,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘Some councils have been looking at their Sure Start provision and trying to rationalise it so it is targeted on those families it was intended for when it was set up.’

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