Children's Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 3rd February 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 11:30 am, 3rd February 2005

If he will make a statement on current and projected levels of public spending on children's services and provision for the under-fives.

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Total investment in Sure Start, child care, nursery education and children's services is expected to rise from £7.3 billion to £9 billion in 2007–08. That is to ensure that not just some children but every child has the best start in life.

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I thank my right hon. Friend not only for that answer but for the incredible priority that the Government have given to such an important matter for the future of our nation. Last Friday, I visited a brand new children's centre in the Barrowcliff area of my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how the ambitions for the people of east Whitby for a similar children's centre can be rolled out in the future? I hope that he will be able to continue with those policies so that those people can achieve what they really want.

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

My hon. Friend has supported the creation of the Sure Start centre in his constituency. The number of Sure Start children's centres will rise from the 550 that we have at present, to 2,500 over the next few years. That major extension in the number of Sure Start centres has been made possible by the extra spending that we are proposing. The unfortunate thing, however, is that the Conservative party plans to cut that spending on those children's programmes.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

We welcome the extra money for children's welfare. I take it that that money is spread throughout the United Kingdom, not just the English and Welsh economy. Given the presence on the Treasury Bench of a Northern Ireland Minister who is responsible for education, may I press the Chancellor to ensure that some of that money will go to help the homework clubs, which have been doing a lot to improve the welfare of children in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend Mr. Gardiner, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, has informed me that that is exactly what he plans to do, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to congratulate him in person.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour/Co-operative, Wolverhampton North East

May I congratulate the Chancellor on his excellent programme of alleviating difficulties for children, particularly with the Sure Start programme and its like? Does he agree that even more money could be spent effectively and that the source of that money may well be a windfall tax on the excessive profits of the banks? I suggest that he start with £8 billion—the additional profit over the £40 billion that they recorded for last year.

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Without the need for a windfall tax, we have managed to increase investment in those services by £1.7 billion over the next few years—that is why my hon. Friend's constituency can look forward to something like three or four Sure Start centres—but that would not have been possible without our decision to use this country's resources to invest in children. In the old welfare state, children and mothers received maternity services and vaccination, and they were then asked to appear for school at five years old. The range of services now available in Sure Start, day care, and nursery places, as well as all the help that is now available to mothers, shows that this is the new frontier of welfare policy, helping every child in this country.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

May I invite the Chancellor to put right the erroneous statement that he just made? The Conservative party supports the expansion and improvement of Sure Start, as he knows only too well, and I hope that he will not wish to mislead the House. I am sure that he would not want just to grab headlines without doing the figures first, so will he explain how he intends to increase the number of Sure Start centres from about 500 to 2,500 over the next three years—a five-times increase—when he has only doubled the amount of cash that he has given to that programme?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The number of Sure Start centres in the programme will rise first from 550 to 1,000, then to 2,000 and then to 2,500, and they are all properly financed, as the hon. Gentleman can see from our programme. As for the Conservative party's programme—[Interruption.]

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The shadow Chancellor should listen to this. We would look in the first instance to some of the money currently spent on Sure Start to fund the programme, thus cutting

"the conveyor belt to crime", to which the shadow Chancellor referred when he was shadow Home Secretary. During a Conservative party conference, he said:

"The cost is modest and could easily be accommodated within the less well-focused Sure Start programme."

Again, he has got to answer for a proposal to cut Sure Start budgets.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

May I tell my right hon. Friend that there is an excellent Sure Start project in Fleetwood in my constituency? I am looking forward to the extra money that he has announced enabling more Sure Start projects and more children's centres, but will he make sure that, as the funding for Sure Start projects is incorporated into mainstream budgets, especially those of local authorities, there is a proper framework within which they will further develop the children's centres and Sure Start to ensure that that excellent project continues?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing the Sure Start programme in her constituency. She is absolutely right to suggest that there must be help with early learning and health services for the young child and the mother. One of the advantages of the Sure Start programme is that we get invited sometimes as Ministers to open those Sure Start centres. To see a Sure Start centre working, with all the parents and children directly involved in its running, is something that makes me proud of our Government's achievements.