Offering children a present and then taking it away when it’s
within arm’s reach is a pretty mean thing to do. But that is
precisely what the government has done with the Children’s
Fund, writes Katie Leason.
The future of the initiative for vulnerable 5-13 year olds was
dealt a substantial blow when fears over cuts to budgets came true.
Managers had been warned before Christmas that cuts were on the
cards, and confirmation of their severity came in the form of a
brief letter from Children’s Fund director Kathy Bundred.
In it she wrote that their allocations would be drastically
reduced. Budgets for 2004-5 are to be reduced by 15 per cent, and
those for 2005-6 by around a third. Dismal news given that
programmes had already started planning and commissioning for the
next two years.
The cuts are understood to be needed because of an
“over-allocation” of funds by the now disbanded
Children and Young People’s Unit, which was responsible for
the Children’s Fund until last autumn.
In the letter Bundred apologised for the “difficult
period”, but warned that the situation “will remain
challenging for some time”. However, she did make an effort
to reassure managers that ministers were “very keen”
that the preventive work they had pioneered would continue to 2006
and beyond. Few will take much comfort.
Not surprisingly Children’s Fund programme managers are
furious and disappointed. Some are so disillusioned that they have
already started to refer to their programmes in the past tense.
Resign en masse
One programme manager said that her partnership was considering
resigning en masse as a result of the announcement.
“We had a vision, a plan. We were deeply involved in the
community and were getting the thing off the ground with great
success. The reduction has lead us to question the purpose of the
partnership and how viable the whole programme is,” she
Her programme is only a small one, but even so hundreds of
children will be affected by the cuts. By 2006, she thinks that
just a quarter of the projects originally planned will actually be
And it’s not just a case of stopping some services to
allow others to continue. Losing one project would have a knock on
effect on others, she explained, as the programme has been designed
so that services are linked.
There’s no getting away from the fact that cutting
services at this stage will have a detrimental effect on the
community and jeopardise the relationships that have been built
“We have worked hard to raise awareness and to take them
away would have a critical effect on working in the community
again. In the community, one thing I’m dreading is seeing the
young people, as it is their projects. When I see them they say how
is my project doing,” she said.
Another programme manager described the civil servants
responsible for the financial mess as “financially
incompetent”. She has already begun to break the bad news,
this week telling one provider how his budget for next year was
likely to be just two fifths of the current amount.
‘Every Child Matters so long as they are not a
Children’s Fund child’
“Every Child Matters so long as they are not a
Children’s Fund child and that’s all 5-13 year olds.
They are saying one thing on one level, but then taking money away
on another level,” said the programme manager.
She also questioned the figures that the government had used to
reach its conclusions.
“They’re now trying to say that more money has been
spent on the Children’s Fund than actually has been.
There’s been a complete cock up. The government should put
its hand in its pocket and put £40 million back into the
Children’s Fund,” she said.
Of course, cutting services will result in job losses, and
expensive senior staff likely to be the first to go – and may
be put off being involved in such work again..
“I would choose never to work in this kind of area again.
I’ve had a career in public service and I don’t want to
work in the public service again,” she said.
Tony Benjamin, programme manager for Bristol’s
Children’s Fund, said that his original plan was to inform
providers in November about whether or not they would be required
from April. However, as the budgets were not known at that time
– and still aren’t expected to be released until the
end of this month – he was unable to carry this out.
“For the last three months I have had a continuous
inundation of anxiety, anger, distrust and complaints from
providers and users who we have worked hard with and built
relationships with,” he said.
He too thinks that the cuts to services will have a devastating
“By damaging the relationships that have been formed and
betraying the basic notion that it was a bottom up process that was
worth children, young people and stakeholders participating in –
that is risking hugely all the ground work that has been done to
establish children’s trusts and other activities in the green
paper,” he said.
The way things are going, the government’s ambitious plans
for children’s services will be at risk of failing before the
children’s bill has even been published.