Children’s minister Margaret Hodge has been forced to apologise
after describing the chaos surrounding the Children’s Fund budget
as a “hiccup”.
Hodge’s gaffe last week came just days after fund programme
managers learned their budgets were to be cut forcing many to close
Hodge angered delegates at a conference on inclusive education when
she said that the fund would not be disappearing but there had been
“a terrible hiccup about the amount this year”.
The “hiccup”remark angered delegates. One, from Harrow, told the
conference that the government’s handling of the cuts would be
better described as a “fiasco”. He added: “I can’t go back to the
voluntary sector and say the minister described the Children’s Fund
as a hiccup.”
Later, Hodge told delegates: “I should not have described it as a
hiccup and I apologise.” She added that some “unwise decisions”
were made in the calculations when setting the original
One programme manager said her partnership was considering
resigning en masse as a result of the announcement. “The reduction
has led us to question the purpose of the partnership and how
viable the whole programme is.”
Cutting services “would have a critical effect on working in the
community again,” she added.
Another programme manager described the civil servants responsible
for the problems as “financially incompetent”.
The Department for Education and Skills has said that more than
£200m has been allocated to Children’s Fund initiatives.
However, this includes more than £40m on initiatives such as
the development of information, referral and tracking and child
One manager said her programme wanted to start a young runaways
project but was rejected because it would deal mainly with children
older than the five to 13 age remit of the fund.
“They’re now trying to say that more money has been spent on the
Children’s Fund than actually has been,” she added.
Confirmation of the cuts came in a brief letter from Kathy Bundred,
Children’s Fund director. It stated that budgets for 2004-5 were to
be reduced by 15 per cent and those for 2005-6 by about a third
(news, page 8, 5 February).
The cuts are understood to be necessary because of an
over-allocation of funds by the Children and Young People’s Unit
which was responsible for the Children’s Fund until last autumn.