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Sure Start Centres

Volume 597: debated on Monday 15 June 2015

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I note that he is already making friends in the right places: the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) described his maiden speech as “socialist to the core”.

In November 2014, 2,800 children’s centres were open, and there were 674 additional sites offering children’s centre services. Obviously, the most important thing is not the number of buildings but the number of people whom we reach, and I am pleased that more than 1 million parents and children are using our centres.

I thank the Minister for his reply, and for his mention of socialism.

The Government have already cut half a billion pounds from the early intervention grant since 2010, and funding has been cut by 30% in real terms in Leeds. More than 700 Sure Start centres have closed. Can the Minister assure parents in my constituency that their centres will not be threatened with closure or further cuts?

I assure the hon. Gentleman, first, that the funds for children’s centres have not been cut—in fact, the overall pot grew from £2.3 billion in 2012-13 to £2.4 billion in 2014-15—and, secondly, that there is a presumption against closure. Local authorities have a duty to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision.

Will the Minister consider accepting the recommendation of the Centre for Social Justice that children’s centres should become “family hubs”, so that we can

“focus on… the stability and quality of family relationships”?

I have met the members of the Centre for Social Justice who have advocated that change of use, or alternative provision, of children’s centres. I think that it is an interesting idea, and one that we should look at in detail.

25. Cuts to council funding—the abolition of a series of grants and credits by the coalition—mean that Sure Start centres in my constituency are providing more basic services than ever before. I am hearing now of children in Kirklees coming to centres on a Monday morning having not had a hot meal since the previous Friday, yet Sure Start budgets in the north of England have been cut by 39%. Does the Minister share my assessment, and that of the London School of Economics and the Centre for Analysis for Social Exclusion, that even the most dedicated of Sure Start children’s centres will not be able to withstand further cuts? (900319)

As I have said previously, it is down to local authorities to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision. Just to be clear on the number of children’s centres, only 142 have closed and eight new centres have opened since 2010. We must move on from the lie being perpetrated. [Interruption.] In some cases children’s centres have merged. [Interruption.] When they have merged, they have not closed. [Interruption.]

Order. I am sure the Minister was using the term generically; he would not suggest for a moment that anybody would lie in, or to, this House.