Sure Start Children’s Centres

Part of Suppmentary Estimates 2010-11 — Department for Education – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 2nd March 2011.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education) 4:01 pm, 2nd March 2011

That is a key point, and I am sure that the Minister will refer to it in her closing remarks.

The Minister has said on several occasions that she wants children’s centres to be paid by results. That does not necessarily seem a bad thing, until it is considered that, nine times out of 10, improving results will need up-front funds, or at least guaranteed budgets. I completely accept that we need to ensure the best value for taxpayers’ money and that outcomes are what matter, but if payment by results means holding significant chunks of money back from budgets, centres will have to concentrate more on managing their funding, which detracts from the quality of service they can provide with reduced funds.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about payment by results. In the letter to Annette Brooke, which I referred to earlier, the Minister said that she would do so in early 2011. Now, when I look at a calendar, I see that it is definitely early 2011. It is actually March 2011, so I look forward to hearing about payment by results.

The Minister will no doubt tell us that that funding is targeted at those who need it most, but Library research shows the opposite. The brunt of the cuts to the early intervention grants seem to be borne by local authorities with the greatest number of children living in poverty, as my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram just said with regard to Liverpool city council. Local authorities such as Knowsley, Sefton,

Wirral and Sunderland, which covers my constituency, are all in the top 10 for cumulative cuts, while authorities such as Cambridgeshire, Richmond upon Thames and Hampshire—all sounding leafy and suburban—are among those that come off best. Can the Minister explain the difference between her words and actions?

There is so much more that I would like to say, but I want to hear from the Minister. To echo the former chief executive of the Daycare Trust, in speaking to the Select Committee, Sure Start

“has been not just a step in the right direction but thousands of steps”.

Every closure, every child whose provision deteriorates, every parent who misses out on the help to improve their parenting, and every early years professional forced to abandon the sector because the jobs have disappeared represents another step backwards from the creation of a society in which every child has the best possible start in life.

I should like to believe that the Minister and her colleagues think the same, but in so many other areas the warm words that we heard before the election, from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and others, and since have not matched the actions of this Tory-led Government. Promises to protect Sure Start have been broken—plain and simple broken promises. Cash-starved councils are being forced to make unpalatable decisions that look set to deprive many thousands of families of the services that they value highly and, in many cases, rely upon, because of a decision that the Minister and her colleagues have made.

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