U-turn on children’s fund cuts

The government has found extra money  to rescue the
Children’s Fund from a 15 per cent budget cut in the coming
financial year.

A  conciliatory and apologetic letter from Anne Weinstock who
manages the Supporting Children and Young People section  at the
Department for Educational and Skills to programme managers and
chairs was emailed last Friday. The letter  reverses cuts to the
2004-5  budget announced in another letter from Weinstock two weeks

The latest letter says ministers have found new  money from
outside the children’s Fund in 2004-2005 which means the
total budget for that year will be £160 million.

There will also be a contingency fund to allow children’s
fund partnerships to respond to exceptional circumstances. This is
likely to include situations in which service providers had been
promised funds which were then clawed back by the centre from local
programmes because they had not been spent by the mid year

The change of heart follows publicity about the cuts in several
national newspapers last week.

There are no promises in the letter about 2005-6, though the
tone suggests the across-the-board 30 per cent cut announced two
weeks ago is now less likely. Weinstock says that ministers
“wish to approach these issues collaboratively with the
sector” and that the final decision will depend partly on the
2004 spending review.

The letter also implies the children’s fund may survive
beyond 2006. Final decisions and allocations for 2005-6 will be
made in the summer of this year, says Weinstock. “Our aim
will be to give you a firm planning basis for that and future years
at that time.”

The letter also  lists a series of major  concessions including
allowing programmes to carry forward underspend from this financial
year to next, and from next year to 2005-6. They will also be able
to “reprofile” from one quarter to the next – revise
their spending timetables during the course of the year in the
light of local developments.

The government is also thinking again about the rule forcing
children’s fund programmes to spend 25 per cent of their
money on youth justice projects, in conjunction with local Youth
Offending Teams.  The 25 per cent rule was announced at the end of 
2002, and  was to apply in 2003-4 and 2004-5. It meant a major
disruption for local children’s fund programmes as service
planning had to be totally revised despite lengthy consultations
with local children and their families. Ministers from the Home
Office and Department for Education and Skills are currently in
talks about the rule, and “are looking to reach agreement
soon,” says Weinstock.

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