Today in The Times Rosemary Bennett reported how hundreds of Sure Start Centres for Children will close as a result of the cuts in funding to local government. Mr Cameron has repeatedly said that the Sure Start service is safe and has talked about them as being great innovations.
Children’s centres are developed in line with the needs of the local community so no one children’s centre is the same. However, there is a core set of services they must provide:
- child and family health services, ranging from health visitors to breastfeeding support
- most centres offer high quality childcare and early learning – those that don’t can help advise on local childcare options
- advice on parenting, local childcare options and access to specialist services for families like speech therapy, healthy eating advice or help with managing money
- help for you to find work or training opportunities, using links to local Jobcentre Plus offices and training providers.
Sure Start was an initiative started under the labour government while I was in the Department of Health. We saw the development of imaginative partnerships between professionals and parents and carers with the aim of giving the poorest a better start in life. There are now 3,600 children centres which provide a variety of advice and support for parents and carers. Their services are available to you from pregnancy right through to when your child goes into reception class at primary school.
However, they are funded by the Department of Education via local government and they have no control over where town halls make cuts.
Local authorities have to cut their budgets by 28% over the next 4 years and therefore Sure Start children’s centres along with other services which support the most vulnerable in society will be affected. Mr. Cameron will soon realise that the public will not be won over by speeches in which he give support to such services when he cannot prevent their funding being cut.
I am not naive enough to believe that we do not need to control our public funding, we do, but there is a risk that public spending cuts will affect those that are most vulnerable.
The Centre for Social Justice (Former think tank of Ian Duncan Smith) this week published a report in which it is suggested that the danger of the current £81 billion of cuts by 2014-15 is that they will not be accurately targeted and leave wasteful programmes in place while taking out ones delivering services valued by the public.
It goes on to say:
Historically, Ministers have extolled outputs such as higher spending and taxes leading to more police, teachers and social workers. But they ignore outcomes that matter to the public – such as less crime, better exam results and fewer drug addicts.
The result of this approach is not just a waste of public money. It is also a waste of using spending programmes to deliver more effective outcomes for the country at large.
Maybe more work needs to be undertake to understand the outcomes of programmes funded by Government and the planned outcomes of any public sector spending reform, so that we are clear about the impact of spending cuts and target them better.