MP Attacks Plan for Funding Cuts to Sure Start Centres

"Restructuring" to be discussed at January 10 Cabinet Meeting


Cabinet Meeting Agenda, January 10

Family Support Programme

Sure Start Centres

Andy Slaughter

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MP Andy Slaughter has attacked Hammersmith and Fulham Council over its plans to cut funding to nine out of the 15 Sure Start children's centres in the borough, and to "contract out" the remaining six.

The plans are revealed in the agenda for a Council Cabinet Meeting scheduled for January 10, where "a major review of services for vulnerable families will be discussed".

The details are contained in a report titled Family Support Programme, which is Agenda Item 7. It reveals the council aims to save £3.2 million through plans to "restructure" provision for children's centres.

A key paragraph in the report states: " However, it is not likely under this scenario that LBHF could continue to
directly fund more than six Children's centre teams.

" In any case we would no longer seek to directly run centres but would contract out provision either to schools or private sector providers. Several centres are already attached to
or run by schools and we expect that many would in any case wish to continue making some provision for children (eg after school clubs) at these centres."

The report also admits that the plans will lead to around 50 people losing their jobs, and has calculated this will cost around £600,000 in redundancy payments.

Mr Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith says these details were "smuggled out quietly on the Tory Council's website over the holiday period".

Despite the details contained in the report, the council has issued a press release claiming that reports that it is closing Sure Start Centres are not true. In fact, it claims it is opening an extra centre, the Avonmore Neighbourhood Centre, in the building which currently houses Barons Court Library.

This proposed extra centre, however would be run "with the help of local community groups".

The press release also states that the current reorganisation of its children's services, which aims to achieve an overall saving of £6.95 million in the next year, will include a review of the services provided by the "expanded network" of 16 children's centres.

The council says: " It is likely that the council will be asking local schools, community and voluntary organisations and health providers to share in the running of the 16 centres, continuing the move over recent years to combine children’s centres with other local services such as schools’ extended day provision."

Cllr Helen Binmore, cabinet member for children's services, claims: " We want to avoid having to close any centres and our initial discussions with other local organisations suggests that, by working creatively together, we will be able to find significant savings from sharing running costs and by reviewing the range of services on offer at each centre."

However, at this stage it is not at all clear who would be involved or how this would work.

By cutting funding to Sure Start Centres, which provide care and support for families with children under six, Hammersmith and Fulham Council would seem to be at odds with Government policy, which promised that funding for Sure Start would be protected.

Children's Minister Sarah Teather said: "We have ensured there is enough money in the system to maintain the network of Sure Start services. As councils make their spending decisions in the coming months I hope they recognise the priority the government has placed on early education."

Mr Slaughter says: " Nine months after telling us they would strengthen Sure Start, they are cutting it by 60%. It's not the same old Tories - these are worse."

January 6, 2011