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Sure Start/Children's Fund

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9th February 2006.

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Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children, Young People and Families)

Sure Start children's centres and the children's fund are central to the Government's determination to improve outcomes and life chances for all young children. Children's centres deliver a wide range of integrated services for under-fives and their families. By 2010, there will be 3,500 centres. Local authorities are responsible for their development, with partners. The children's fund is designed to ensure that preventive approaches are delivered locally, and delivery plans for children's fund partnerships have been agreed for the period up to 2008.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should perhaps declare a non-pecuniary interest in that my family has attended Sure Start events, which have been excellent, and my sister works for the children's fund. Both schemes have provided excellent opportunities for people in my constituency, but they suffer from two problems. First, when delivering a scheme in a rural area with many small communities, they have a real funding problem if they are to provide the same opportunities in multiple locations. Secondly, they are insecure about what will happen when funding ends in 2008. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives from North Cornwall to discuss the situation?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children, Young People and Families)

I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman and his family and friends have reaped the benefits of our investment in Sure Start. Sure Start is going well in North Cornwall precisely for the reasons that he identifies. Sure Start local programmes are pushing the boundaries to reach wider rural areas and helping us to learn how to reach small communities. There will be considerable investment in Cornwall for the next two phases of development of children's centres, with just about £7.5 million in revenue and capital for phase 1 and a further £5.5 million for phase 2. He can expect further children's centres in his constituency due to those phases, and I would be happy to meet a delegation.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I represent some of the most deprived wards in the country, where Sure Start and children's centres have made a real difference, not only in terms of education. An holistic approach is taken: children's health is improving and so is the community. I ask my right hon. Friend to continue to target such centres on the most deprived wards in the land.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children, Young People and Families)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As the House knows, we are moving from an area-based local programme targeted on disadvantaged areas to a mainstream integrated service for all under-fives, with a children's centre in every community by 2010. However, I assure my hon. Friend that our focus for the full offering of fully integrated services will remain on disadvantaged areas, because we know that if we help disadvantaged children to improve their attainment early in their lives that will continue through their primary and secondary years and improve their life chances. The Government are determined to do that.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

There are three Sure Starts in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that local authorities are fully engaged in the work of Sure Starts and are able effectively to monitor and support the work of Sure Starts in their area?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children, Young People and Families)

Yes, I do. Through the children's trust arrangements, local authorities are taking a lead. I want local authorities to deliver the plans that they have set out for all the children's centres in their areas over the next four or five years. It is also important, however, that local authorities accept their responsibility for working with private and voluntary sector partners and with health and employment services, because the integration that we need in children's centres requires all those other partners to be fully involved. I expect local authorities to take a lead in ensuring that that happens.