Nick Clegg in Shepherd's Bush Children's Centre 'Gaffe'

Deputy PM visited centre that had just lost its grant

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Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter is claiming that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has made a gaffe by extolling the virtues of a children's centre which Conservative Hammersmith and Fulham Council is about to evict from its premises.

Mr. Clegg recently visited the Shepherd's Bush Families’ Project to promote the coaltion government's policies on social mobility. The Council has recently turned down an application for a grant from Families Project which runs the Centre and the Council are proposing to sell the premises and evict all the occupants.

Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter said, ‘Mr Clegg is very welcome to Shepherd's Bush Village Hall and the Children’s Centre here. I want him to see the excellent work that has gone on here for many years with the support of a Labour council and government. But he may like to comment on the decision of his Coalition partners, in this case the Tory council in Hammersmith & Fulham, to evict the Shepherd's Bush Families’ Project (SBFP) from their long-term home and cut all their grant funding. If he truly believes that Children’s Centres, and voluntary organisations like SBFP, offer a fair start in life to children, especially those from poorer backgrounds, he should be joining the campaign to save this centre and the work it does.’

There appears to have been a lack of communication between the Deputy Prime Minister's office and the Council who reportedly only heard of the planned visit a few hours before it took place and were unable to brief him on the situation. Mr. Clegg was presented with cards from the children asking them to save their centre and parents asked him repeatedly to intervene to stop the Council selling the premises.

There was more trouble for Mr Clegg when it was revealed that the LibDem parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith at the general election condemned the Coalition’s proposed sale of buildings as recently as two weeks ago.

A Council spokesman said: "Shepherd's Bush Families Project (SBFP) is receiving £250,000 from H&F Council this year – which is more than we gave them last year. The council is currently asking residents whether nine buildings, including Bulwer Street, should be sold to help reduce the council's toxic debt mountain and protect front-line services. No decisions have been made but if the council does decide to sell the property all groups will be provided with independent support to find a new home potentially in other council-owned buildings."

The Council also dismiss claims that the failure of the centre to get their grant represents a cut. The Centre was seeking to provide an after-school service for 5-13s and holiday programmes for families in housing need. However, they say there is alternative provision being developed locally in Addison and St Stephens schools, and the children’s centre is also providing after school and holiday activities that could attract children over five years old.

A spokesperson for the Deputy Prime Minister said "Nick Clegg was pleased to visit this centre and see the good work that it does. “The precise funding of individual centres is a matter for individual councils. But this Government has ensured that funding for Sure Start centres has been ring-fenced this year to ensure that they can continue that good work.”

August 19, 2010