Cash boost may be too late for key preventative schemes

The government’s decision to renew the Children’s Fund next year could come too late for some voluntary sector projects unless councils act quickly to recommission services, campaigners have warned.

The Children’s Fund had been set to end next March, but last week children’s secretary Ed Balls (pictured left) announced it would be extended until 2011 with funding of £132m per year.

Chris Hanvey, director of operations at Barnardo’s, said the charity was concerned some projects could be forced to close if councils did not commit to renewing their funding before the end of this financial year.

“They have got to get on with recommissioning. A lot of our services will have been operating on the assumption that the service will be ending and that starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Staff start to move on and that makes it easier for local authorities to close them.”

Helen Dent, chief executive of the Family Welfare Association, agreed, adding: “I hope they don’t just close everything there is and reopen it in the future because all of the very good work will be lost. Continuity of good services is really important.”

The Children’s Fund was launched in November 2000 for local partnerships to invest in preventive services for disadvantaged children.

Research from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, released last year, found that some councils favoured in-house provision of children’s services due to an unfounded belief that it was cheaper than the voluntary sector. Hanvey said councils were under more financial pressure now than when Children’s Fund money was first allocated, and this increased the danger of them taking the new contracts in-house.

Unlike previous rounds of Children’s Fund money the new funding is not ringfenced and will be pooled within a local area agreement grant in each local authority. Hanvey said that it was essential that councils ensured that the money was spent on preventive projects rather than more high-end services such as child protection.

Government announcements last week

* £396m to continue the Children’s Fund for another three years beyond March 2008
* £60m to support schools in working with mental health practitioners
* The launch of a nationwide consultation to develop a government plan for children’s services

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 Amy Taylor

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