Skip Navigation

Search

Donate

Shop

Sign up for newsletter

Crunch time for Sure Start as council budget plans exposed

Parents called upon to make their voices heard

17 February 2011

New research out today presents a mixed picture for the future of Sure Start Children's Centres, as local authorities across the country reveal their plans for centre closures.

The survey by 4Children, Daycare Trust and Nursery World was carried out as local authorities set their budgets for the year for the first time since the removal of the ring-fence on the Sure Start grant in October's Comprehensive Spending Review. This gives local authorities new power to determine how much they spend on Sure Start provision in their area. The results show that whilst many have prioritised protecting the future of their Sure Start Children's Centres, significant numbers in local authorities across England remain at risk of closure in the next 12 months.

By law1, all Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that appropriate consultation has been carried out before closing a Children's centre or making dramatic changes to the provision of Children's Centre services.

The survey asked local authorities "Are you able to give a commitment to keeping all your existing Children's Centres open in 2011-12?"

It found that:  

  • 39% of Local Authorities (59) were able to agree with the statement
  • 19% of Local Authorities (29) were not able to agree with the statement but said that they had "no plans" to close their existing Sure Start Children's Centres
  • 42% of Local Authorities (62) either will make closures, had not finalised a decision on closures, or did not respond to our request

These findings are released on the same day that a new poll of 2,000 mums conducted in conjunction with parenting club Bounty sees parents speak out about how much they value Sure Start, and express their fears for the future of their local Children's Centre.

That poll showed:

  • 83% of mums who used their Sure Start Children's Centre felt that councils should be required to spend all their Sure Start funding on Sure Start, rather than other services.
  • 15% were aware that some services would be cut, and 6% thought that existing staff would be losing their jobs
  • When asked about the impact on their family if access to the Sure Start Children's Centre was removed or limited, a majority of mums who use a Centre felt that it would be harder for them and their child to meet other local families (53%). In addition 35% felt that they would feel isolated, 32% would find it harder to see their midwife or health visitor, 29% would miss out on advice with parenting skills, and 28% felt that their child's development would suffer.
  • The most popular Sure Start service used by Mums was stay and play sessions (63%), followed by health visitor (53%), rhyme/story time (34%) and midwife support/advice on breastfeeding (26%)

Anand Shukla, acting Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said:

"These local authorities have demonstrated that Sure Start closures are not inevitable. While we understand that there are tough spending decisions to be made, we know that investing in children today is an investment in the future of our society and economy. Our survey with Bounty mums shows how passionate parents are about Sure Start. They hugely value the services they can access, and see the benefits to their children's development.

We hope that councils will listen to their local residents, who are forming strong campaigns across the country to fight these cuts. It is now clear beyond doubt that families will not stand back and watch short-term cost-cutting decisions close down the services provided in their much loved Children's Centres."

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said:

"It is good news that a growing number of Councils are making a public commitment to keeping their Sure Start Children's Centres open - it shows that it is possible to put families first even when times are tough financially.  But this survey also proves that many parents still are right to worry, with a large number of local authorities yet to finalise their future plans, and some publicly acknowledging likely Children's Centre closures.

"Sure Start has never been more crucial as families struggle to offer the best start for their children and those facing unemployment or family problems will find it hard to escape from their troubles without the support these Centres offer. The next few weeks are critical for the future of Children's Centres: local and national decision makers must stand ready to step in to ensure such vital services are not lost forever."

Liz Roberts, Editor of Nursery World said:

"The importance of early intervention in maximising young children's life chances is now accepted, but a strong network of Sure Start Children's Centres is a vital element. We need everybody to show support and make as much noise as over the forest sell-offs. We should make sure that young children's needs are seen as important as those of the nation's trees!"

4Children, Daycare Trust and Nursery World are calling on Local Authorities to prioritise funding for Sure Start Children's Centres; parents to voice their concerns to their Local Authority and for Central Government to monitor this situation closely to ensure that Sure Start Children's Centres continue to play a key role in the future of family support.

  

- ENDS-

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

The survey was carried out between Monday 7th February and Thursday 11th February, when the press offices of 150 Local Authorities in England were contacted. 21 Local Authorities did not respond to the request

Local Authorities that gave a commitment to keeping all their Children's Centres open in 2011/12:

Bath & North East Somerset

Bournemouth

Bristol

Buckinghamshire

Bury

Calderdale

Cambridgeshire

Central Bedfordshire

Darlington

Devon

Doncaster

Durham

Ealing

East Riding of Yorkshire

Essex

Greenwich

Hackney

Halton

Hammersmith and Fulham

Harrow

Hartlepool

Herefordshire

Hertfordshire

Hounslow

Hull

Isle of Wight

Islington

Leicestershire

Lewisham

Lincolnshire

Medway

Merton

North Somerset

North Yorkshire

Northamptonshire

Northumberland

Nottingham

Nottinghamshire

Oldham

Peterborough

Poole

Redbridge

Redcar and Cleveland

Richmond upon Thames

Sandwell

Solihull

Somerset

Southend-on-Sea

St Helens

Stoke-on-Trent

Suffolk

Surrey

Swindon

Tameside

Tower Hamlets

Trafford

Wiltshire

Wolverhampton

Worcestershire

 

Local Authorities that were not able to agree with the statement but said that they had "no plans" to close their existing Sure Start Children's Centres:

Bexley

Birmingham

Blackburn with Darwen

Bracknell Forest

Brent

Croydon

Derbyshire

Dudley

Hillingdon

Kent

Luton

Manchester

Middlesbrough

Milton Keynes

Newcastle upon Tyne

Norfolk

North Tyneside

Oxfordshire

Reading

Rutland

Stockport

Sutton

Walsall

Wandsworth

Warrington

West Berkshire

Westminster

Wokingham

York

 

Bounty ran their Word of Mum omnibus survey between 17th and 26th January 2011 and interviewed 2260 mums (including pregnant women and those with a youngest child aged 0-2). 

 

1The Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, states that: An English local authority must secure that such consultation as they think appropriate is carried out-

  • (a) before making arrangements under section 3(2) for the provision of a children's centre;
  • (b) before any significant change is made in the services provided through a relevant children's centre;
  • (c) before anything is done that would result in a relevant children's centre ceasing to be a children's centre.

 

4Children
4Children is the national children and families charity which develops, influences and shapes national policy on all aspects of children, young people and families lives and works with a wide range of partners to deliver real support for children and families in their community. It is one of the largest not for profit Children's Centre providers in the country.

4Children is recognised as one of the leading champions for Children's Centres.   ‘Shout out for a sure start' is a national campaign run by 4Children dedicated to promoting and supporting the unique role Sure Start Children's Centres can play in supporting young children and their families.  The charity also provides the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Sure Start Group of MPs.   For further information, visit wwwshoutoutforasurestart.org.uk.

Daycare Trust

Daycare Trust is the national childcare charity, campaigning for quality affordable accessible childcare for all and raising the voices of children, parents and carers.  We advise parents and carers, providers, employers, trade unions and policymakers on childcare issues. 

Daycare Trust runs an Information Line  on 0845 872 6251, open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10.00am-1.00pm and 2.00pm-5.00pm, Wed 2.00pm-5.00pm (only). Parents can also visit http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/ and http://www.payingforchildcare.org.uk/ for information.

 

Nursery World

Nursery World is the leading weekly magazine for early years' education and childcare professionals. Each week, Nursery World is first with news and analysis of Government policy and events in the sector. Its popular, practical features focus on the early years' curriculum, while regular series include child health and development, special needs, equipment, management, training and careers. Visit http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/