Labour to ‘save’ Sure Start network

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Labour would reimpose a requirement on local councils to provide childcare via Sure Start centres in a bid to “save” the network and ease chronic shortages of places , shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt announced.

The network of facilities for parents in mostly deprived areas is cherished by the party as one of the most significant initiatives of its last spell in power.

But it says the removal of the statutory obligation by the coalition Government has directly led to a dramatic decline in numbers – with 720 fewer now than in 2010 and many more mothballed or running much-reduced hours.

With half of authorities predicting budget cuts will further restrict the service in the next two years, Mr Hunt said it was vital to restore the pressure to “put the lights back on, get the kids back in”.

The Opposition said it would make it easier for cash-strapped town halls to find and engage outside providers, by matching them up with childcare firms and charities “desperate” to find suitable and affordable premises and by reducing red tape.

Analysis by the 4Children charity suggested the move could double the places provided through Sure Start to 118,000, the party said.

“It is a scandal that these brilliant community assets are being mothballed or even closed at a time when parents are crying out for decent childcare in their communities,” Mr Hunt said.

“We will not succeed as country unless we ensure every child has a decent start in life.

“We will not succeed as a country if parents can’t get to work because they can’t get the childcare they need.

“We will not succeed as a country if we waste resources by allowing Sure Start centres to be idle, empty or even close.

“So we’re going to put the lights back on, get the kids back in and restore the founding purpose of Sure Start.”

The proposals would cost no money, he suggested.

“It is purely a question of political will and leadership. The Government seems content to sit back and let Sure Start wither away.

“If the Tories win a second term, I fear Sure Start will disappear in many parts of our country and one of the great progressive programmes will be lost to the next generation.

“Labour created Sure Start. Labour cares about Sure Start. Labour will save Sure Start.”

The party said figures it had obtained via freedom of information requests showed that at least one in six Sure Start centres has reduced its opening hours; one in ten provides fewer services and one in five has fewer staff than in 2010.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said around 1,100 centres could provide additional places if given extra support or direction.

“There is a well-recognised shortage of high quality childcare places in areas of disadvantage which children’s centres are clearly able to respond to.

“We urge local authorities to examine the potential for more childcare places in children’s centres and work with partners to deliver them. This will reinstate the childcare that many ceased to deliver when the requirement to provide was removed in 2011.”

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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