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Early Intervention

Volume 552: debated on Monday 29 October 2012

5. What steps he is taking to ensure sufficient funding for early intervention for children aged five or under. (124979)

We are increasing the overall funding for early intervention from £2.2 billion in 2011-12 to £2.5 billion in 2014-15. This funding should enable local authorities to support early intervention for children under five, including through the new entitlement to early education for two-year-olds.

What particular action will the Department take to ensure that Sure Start children’s centres retain early intervention support for families, as well as providing targeted services?

Local authorities are under an obligation to ensure a sufficient supply of Sure Start children’s centres. The overwhelming majority of local authorities, including Liberal Democrat-led ones, have done just that. It is important to recognise that children’s centres work best when they offer a variety of services, from stay and play to some of the targeted early intervention programmes that have done so much to help those children most in need.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists estimates that at just age four there is a 30 million word gap between a child from a deprived household and one from an affluent household. This is the number of words that a child will hear in different environments. Will not language and child development now suffer from the scrapping of the ring-fenced early intervention grant and result in more children starting school at four on an unequal playing field?

I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s case. The gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and children from more fortunate circumstances only grows over time and is often a consequence of growing up in households where they are not read to and where they do not have a rich literary heritage on which to draw. However, she is mistaken in thinking that the early intervention grant was ring-fenced. It was not; it was money that was available to local authorities to spend as they saw fit in order to help those whom they considered, on a local basis, to be most deserving.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Government intend to abolish the early intervention grant, and what steps they are taking to ensure the quality of provision provided in the early years? It is not simply about providing services but about ensuring that they are of the necessary quality to make a difference, so that disadvantaged children arrive ready for school.

That is a typically good point from the Chairman of the Education Select Committee. The early intervention grant money has never been ring-fenced and will remain available to local authorities, which have statutory obligations to provide not just children’s centres but particular services, and we will be announcing more steps in due course to ensure that money is spent even more effectively in the future.

17. I declare my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Mr Speaker. The early intervention grant has been, and will be, reduced and will be put into the rate support grant. Without a doubt, one thing that is happening is that £150 million is being taken from the localities to the centre. What does the Secretary of State intend to do with that money on early intervention, and will he please meet me, in the not-too-distant future, to discuss that and other early intervention grant matters? (124992)

Meetings with the hon. Gentleman are always a pleasure—I find myself better informed after every single one. On this occasion, however, I fear that, in the same way as even Homer nods, even the hon. Gentleman errs. The early intervention grant money will increase over the lifetime of this Parliament. The £150 million to which he refers is money that will go to local authorities in order to support the sorts of evidence-based interventions I know he has done so much to champion.

Even a Conservative councillor described the Government’s approach on this as “typical smoke and mirrors”, and we have heard typical smoke and mirrors again from the Secretary of State today. If we compare like with like—not the money for two-year-olds, which the Government have claimed is new money—what are the figures this year and next year?

The figure for this year, 2011-12, is £2,222,555,697, which then goes up to £2,365,200,000, so that is an increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13.

A significant part of that extra money is actually the money for two-year-olds which the Government said was additional money. The figures in the Government’s own consultation showed that the cut would be from the £2.3 billion figure, which the Secretary of State has just given us, to £1.72 billion next year, which is a cut of 27%. Should not the Secretary of State be honest and listen to Merrick Cockell, the leader of Conservative local government, who made a clear point last week:

“this move…will force local authorities to cut early intervention services even further”?

Is that not what is really going on?

Order. Just before the Secretary of State responds, I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State would accept that the Secretary of State would always be honest with the House. There is no need to ask for a commitment to honesty; that is implicit.

I am never surprised when I hear a kind word from the Chair. It is no more than I have come to expect.

Implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s question was the idea that we should reduce funding to extend early education to two-year-olds. I do not believe that is right. I believe it is right that we increase the amount we spend on early intervention from £2.2 billion to £2.3 billion, to £2.4 billion and then to £2.5 billion. That is an increase in anyone’s money.