Saturday, 1 January 2011

H&F Council axe Sure Start centres for children

Our Council's cuts have reached children's services and now appear to go even further than David Cameron himself has said is necessary, reports the Daily Mirror today.

Our MP Andy Slaughter has leapt on the revelation that 60% of these centres, which were established by the last Government to support the early years development of children to boost educational achievement and are officially supported by the Conservatives, to say that H&F Council is the extreme end of what he calls "the true face of Cameron’s Britain".

Before the General Election David Cameron and other senior Tories were regular visitors to our Council, which is widely regarded as a flagship Conservative borough. Cameron described his "pride" in H&F at an event here almost a year to the day ago. It's the same reason why the now Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles recently gave a speech in Hammersmith Town Hall saying that our own Council represented the "future of local government" across the UK.

It's for that reason when they make decisions like this it gets national attention, so expect more.

But in the meantime for those of us that are parents in this area these are worrying times. The Council will officially vote on these cuts on January 10th at a meeting, but having been at these meetings for the blog quite a few times now, I can assure you that this is a formality.

The Mirror says that the Sure Start cuts were "buried in a document sneaked out on the council’s website over Christmas".In addition our only children’s home is also being shut and sold off for luxury flats and libraries also face closure as part of a package that will take £7.5million out of services for young people. This is what one 11 year old boy had to say about it last year.

Not a happy new year if you're a happy new parent it would seem.

3rd January UPDATE - The Conservatives have hit back at this version of events on their website, calling the Mirror "predictably dishonest" and issuing the following riposte:

It [the Mirror] claims that most of the borough's 15 Centres will be "axed" - in fact the plan is for them to continue but not for them all to be directly run by the Council.

The report [being followed by the Council] says:

At present H&F has a network of 15 children’s centres, providing a wide range of support from universal provision through to targeted support for the most vulnerable families (tier 4). Although these are clearly popular with families, and seem likely to have some preventive impact, we have much less clear evidence about the degree of impact this has – including on the ultimate number of children falling into child protection.

Although early studies showed no clear evidence of impact on early school results, overall Sure Start seems to have had a positive impact especially on parenting and social behaviour for 3 year olds.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project (EPPE) examines the effect of preschool education for three and four year olds on children’s development at key ages. EPPE found that involvement in high quality early years education from age two onwards can lead to better educational and social outcomes for all children. It is also the case that Children’s Centres fill a gap in universal provision for 0-5 year olds who will not be in school, or who have not taken up any other early years provision through schools or private sector.

They provide the opportunity for a layer of preventive intervention, as opposed to reactive targeted intervention. They have become integral to the delivery of a wide range of services – midwifery, parenting programmes, obesity services, etc. we have begun to link them with primary care through health visiting and GPs.
We are looking at options to restructure this provision in line with the likely levels of efficiency and grant reductions expected, whilst targeting the remaining provision more closely on vulnerable families, so as to reduce the impact as much as possible. In doing so we will take account of need in each part of the borough, as well as reasonable travelling distance to access

support, aiming to retain full borough coverage. This is in line with the Coalition commitment to refocus Sure Start “on its original purpose of improving the life chances of disadvantaged children.”

However, it is not likely under this scenario that LBHF could continue to directly fund more than 6 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. Depending on the terms of any grant funding, we will seek to maintain a full wider network of outlets, on a ‘hub and spoke’ model. We aim to maintain some provision at most centres, through small amounts of pumppriming funding. A separate briefing paper to Cabinet will expand on these proposals.

The nature of the service provided at the remaining centres will need to be better targeted on vulnerable families. Support to the most vulnerable will be subsumed into the new locality teams. A public consultation on these proposals is planned to commence in January. The loss of more significant grant levels would require a more drastic level of reduction in provision. The remaining children’s centres could provide a drop-in hotdesking base of operations for locality teams, and be the main provider of eg parenting sessions for the client group.

In the election Labour claimed that the Conservatives would abolish Sure Start. This claim has now been shown to be a lie. But the Conservatives did not say that Sure Start would be left unchanged. The manifesto said:

We will take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families, and better involve organisations with a track record in supporting families.
This is the approach that is being followed.

1 comment:

  1. I have lived in the same house for 20 years, and London for 40 or so, north and east for 20. My kids are now 18 and 16. Sure start would have been irrelevant for me as I worked full time and was lucky to have a work place nursery.
    Primary education in H&F is fine. Secondary is totally skewed by the presence of disproportionate private education provision, significant religious schools and then the state left to mop up the rest. The state schools do not stand a chance and in the circs, do a good job, but as all the academic kids are creamed off into the "selective" schools, there can be no real comprehensive offer in the borough for those parents who want a truly comprehensive education for their children and do not wish to become religious hypocrites to get their kids into a "good" school and feel that they have already paid through their taxes. William Atkinson (Head of Phoenix) once said that until the middle classes will trust the state schools with their children, there will never be true comprehensive education, (or something like that).
    The following is an old article but it still rings true.
    I do not envy parents of young children in the borough as not a huge amount has changed in the last 15 years; but we as a family lost a lot of good friends who moved out of H&F when their children were approaching secondary school age. There is no answer - we cannot buy out the church schools - that opportunity was lost in the 19th century. We cannot nationalise or merge with the private sector so it is a conundrum that the parent needs to grapple with. For many there is no choice at all.