I think that I should sometimes say what I feel in these debates.
As I was saying, the Wendell Park parents whom I saw this morning were under no illusion that reducing a budget of £250,000 to £19,000 meant anything other than that the centre would be closed. Cathnor Park children’s centre, which is about half a mile from where I live and which currently has a budget of £473,000, is also to have a budget of £19,000 in the future. The 100 parents who turned up to a meeting at that centre two weeks ago—which none of the Conservative councillors could be bothered to attend—are similarly under no illusion about what is happening. Notwithstanding the weasel words that we have heard from certain Government Members, what is happening is that children’s centres are closing, their budgets are being withdrawn, the centre is being withdrawn and 45% of funding is being withdrawn. That is the future of Sure Start in my constituency.
Does the Minister of State take any responsibility for what is happening? I understand the rhetoric about localism, but I also understand that if we are to take seriously what the Government said before the election—that they support Sure Start and want the network to be maintained—and if local authorities, of any political complexion but in this instance my Conservative-run council, are cutting budgets by almost 50% and reducing the service by more than half in terms of the number of centres that remain open, the Government have a clear duty to intervene.
Although its budget has already been set, it is still possible for Hammersmith and Fulham to look for resources within the funds that have been allocated. This is a council that spends several million pounds on publicity. It would not be difficult for it to find enough resources to keep the Sure Start centres open, albeit at a reduced level for the time being. At present, all the centres that face closure are considering how they can save money, examining business plans and looking at ways of maintaining the service, but people should not insult our intelligence by claiming that although there is no budget and no service, centres are somehow being preserved because buildings are still standing—if they are not also withdrawn by the Government.
I ask the Minister of State to address directly an issue that she has already addressed obliquely. What is she going to do about local authorities which, despite what they have heard Ministers say about Government policy on Sure Start, persist in shutting down what ought to be a national service of which we should be proud—as I thought we all were—because they do not consider it to be a local priority?
— from debate entitled “Sure Start Children’s Centres”
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