Directors tell MPs Sure Start should not be ring-fenced

Councils want the freedom to spend Sure Start money on other early intervention funding, directors told the education select committee this morning.

Councils want the freedom to spend Sure Start money on other early intervention funding, directors told the education select committee this morning.

Matt Dunkley, vice president of the Association of Directors for Children’s Services, told the committee that he welcomed the removal of ring-fencing “as long as it’s not a ring fence that is off but not really off. such as for Sure Start children’s centres funding”.

“If the ring fence is off then we don’t want the government to then be wagging their fingers at us about how we do it.”

His comments follow a Daybreak investigation which found 99 English local authorities were not able to give a commitment to the current funding of Sure Start centres. However, children and families minister Sarah Teather, at the recent National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester, told Community Care that councils would be “foolish” to cut funding to Sure Start centres because it would form the hub of government policy coming down the track.

Dunkley said ADCS was so far aware of 11 grant streams that would be amalgamated into the £2bn Early Intervention Grant of which £1.3bn was Sure Start funding. “At the end of the four years there’ll be a flatlining of some services currently offered by those grants and probably removal of others altogether. Local authorities are looking very hard at Sure Start funding provision and whether it is sustainable at current levels. I would argue that it is not. I think we’ll see a stripping back with some things remaining free but others charged for and targeting services at the vulnerable.”

He pointed out that charging for some services would still not close the gaps opening up in overall revenue streams.

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo’s, which provides 110 Sure Start Centres, said savings could be made by using more volunteers and fewer qualified staff as well as clustering centres to ensure resources are shared.

Bernadette Duffy, head of Camden’s Thomas Coram Children’s Centre said it was important to maintain highly qualified teaching staff in centres but savings could be made by focusing only on evidence-based interventions and ditching others, such as baby yoga. She said she also felt it would be possible for children’s centres to be paid based on outcomes and to extend their reach to children beyond the age of five.

In response to a question about pooled community budgets Dunkley said councils would have to make a choice about where the money would be directed to be the most cost effective

“Pooling resources to change behaviour makes sense in long-term planning but it has to be focused on the right families. There are those families we already know with these problems but there are also a whole raft of families on their way up to that point and for whom services are now going to be reduced.”

Money for special educational needs children would be more effective if the use of personal budgets were brought in, Dunkley claimed. “If we can pool all the resources, and it will require legislative change, to include education, respite and health in a single budget then that would change the whole market when it comes to disabled people. It would enable whole-life commissioning and you would end up with a better result and less adversarial outcomes.”

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