Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Sure Start Children’s Centres

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:47 pm on 27th April 2011.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator) 12:47 pm, 27th April 2011

Sure Start was ring-fenced—that was the policy of our Government. The Labour manifesto talks of strengthening early intervention. I am holding the Prime Minister to account for what he said when he was seeking the votes of people in this country. He said, in terms, that he would strengthen Sure Start, so I am saying that we should look at the evidence on the ground. Is Sure Start strengthening or weakening? When I read the hon. Gentleman some of the evidence, I hope that he will make an honest judgment on whether the service is getting better or is under threat.

The research from the Library tells us that in England the average cut in the EIG between 2010-11 and 2011-12 is £50 for every child in this country. Altogether that is absolute proof that the PM, who is undoubtedly a good talker—a PR man—is dangerously cavalier with the facts at the Dispatch Box, as Oxford university recently found to its cost. He said at the election that he would protect Sure Start, but in fact he has cut it, in real terms, by about a quarter. This takes us to the crux of the matter. The Government have not had the guts to be honest about the cuts that they are making to Sure Start. Instead, they have cut the budget, removed the ring fence, and offloaded the problem and the responsibility on to local authorities up and down the country, some of which face invidious choices in cutting essential services for children—child safeguarding and other important services. That is a terrible position for local authorities to be in, be they Conservative, Liberal, Labour or in coalition. Some other councils are cutting way beyond what would have been the ring fence. They are cutting into funds that were given by the Government for the purposes of Sure Start, siphoning them off and spending them elsewhere.