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Sure Start

Volume 598: debated on Monday 20 July 2015

2. What plans the Government have to use Sure Start centres for the extension of free childcare to 30 hours a week. (901087)

Children’s centres play a valuable role in our communities. It is right for local authorities to decide on the nature of provision on the basis of local need. If there is a viable nursery in a children’s centre, of course we will strongly encourage it to help to deliver our manifesto commitment to assist families with the cost of childcare.

In 2010 the Prime Minister said that he backed Sure Start centres, but since then more than 800 have closed, including a number in my constituency. Why are the Government not giving local authorities the necessary resources, so that they can go on helping Sure Start centres to deliver the excellent early-years and childcare provision that we know they can deliver?

I agree that Sure Start centres provide some excellent support for young families. Where we disagree is that the hon. Lady wants to go on counting buildings and we want to focus on outcomes. I hope Opposition Members will join me in welcoming the fact that more than 1 million families are benefiting from Sure Start centres. As for nursery provision, only 3% of Sure Start centres currently offer day care, but we want to ensure that when centres are viable, they can deliver.

On 22 June, the Prime Minister said:

“we will look at how we can create a much more coherent offer to support children and parents in the early years”.

Does that mean that our children’s centres will become family hubs?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question on a key point. There is a lot more that we can do. Last week I announced a consultation on how we can incorporate other types of service in children’s centres, and I should very much like to discuss with my hon. Friend how family hubs might be part of that.

In proceeding with their plans to expand the provision of free childcare in Scotland, the Scottish Government have stressed the importance of high-quality early learning to giving our children the very best start in life. Does the Minister agree that access to free childcare is vital to tackling social and educational inequalities early in life, and will he explain how the United Kingdom Government intend to support those aims through their expansion of free childcare to 30 hours a week?

Obviously I agree with the hon. Lady, and that is why, the last Government having introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for two-year-olds, we are extending free childcare provision to three and four-year-olds, raising the quality of childcare, and making it affordable for parents.

The Scottish Government have announced plans to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds. As the Minister will know, that is more ambitious than his plans to extend provision only to families in which both parents work. Does he not recognise that by restricting free childcare in that way, the UK Government are missing an opportunity to tackle inequalities by targeting early-learning provision at more disadvantaged families?

Our plan to give 30 hours a week of free childcare to working parents of three and four-year-olds would apply to 75% of children. The difference between our position and that of the Scottish Government is our belief that enabling parents to work provides them with the best route out of poverty. As well as offering free childcare, we are subsidising some of the poorest parents by means of universal credit, thus meeting 85% of their childcare costs.[Official Report, 21 July 2015, Vol. 598, c. 3MC.]

23. Given that parents will use the 30 hours for full day care, what consideration has been given to the fact that the children will now need to be fed during that time, and what additional training and funds, if any, are being provided to facilitate that? (901108)

Children already sleep and eat in many day care settings—the lot is provided to them. We are conducting a funding review, which will come up with exactly how the 30 hours will be delivered to parents.

Removal of the childcare duty from children’s centres and savage early intervention cuts of 56% have stretched children’s services to breaking point. Holiday childcare costs have risen by 25% since 2010, and almost 90% of local authorities do not have enough space to meet summer demand. Will the Minister now commit to investing in children’s centres to help solve this problem as free entitlement is expanded?

I am happy to compare our record on supporting young families with that of Labour any time. Let me remind the hon. Lady of what the National Audit Office said about Labour and Sure Start: it said it was unviable, underfunded and failing to reduce inequality. Under the Conservatives, two thirds of all disadvantaged children under the age of five are benefiting from Sure Start centres.