The Petition of Kerry Stansfield and Abigail Flavell,
Declares that statements made by Ministers of the Crown to the effect that Sure Start children’s centres across the country have sufficient funding to continue providing the level of service that they have attained in recent years, appear to be contradicted by the reductions that are happening across the country; further declares that the petitioners believe that the resulting reduction in the affordable childcare in children’s centres will discourage some parents from seeking employment and will prove damaging for the long-term development of children.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges Ministers to review the funding arrangements for children’s centres to ensure that the valuable investment in the future that they represent is protected.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Diana Johnson, Official Report, 14 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 750.]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Education, received 4 August 2011:
Through the Spending Review, the Government prioritised early years provision. The Government want to reform early years education and children’s centres so that all children and families receive the support they need, particularly the most vulnerable. Sure Start children’s centres are now being funded through the Government’s Early Intervention Grant (EIG) provided to local authorities. There is enough money in the grant to retain a network of children’s centres. Ministers have been clear that they want children’s centres to maintain their presence as community hubs, but with a greater focus on supporting those families in greatest need.
The Government have responded to views from local authorities and provided them with greater flexibility in how they spend their money. Funding for children’s centres is no longer ring-fenced and it is for local authorities to decide how to run their services; they need to make judgments based on local needs and what works best. In tough economic times, however, it is crucial that local authorities listen to what local communities need and want.
Local authorities remain responsible for ensuring that there is sufficient high-quality early education and childcare across the whole of their community. The Government are committed to high-quality childcare and have increased the free childcare offer for 3 and 4-year-olds to 15 hours. The evidence is clear about the impact quality has on outcomes for children. Local authorities have duties under the Childcare Act 2006 to consult before opening, closing or significantly changing children’s centres and, as far as is reasonably practicable, to secure sufficient children’s centres provision to meet local need. It is vital that any changes are based on proper consultation with local parents and communities. However, it is for local authorities through that process to determine the exact nature of that provision.