Hundreds of Sure Start children’s centres set to close

As many as 250 Sure Start children’s centres are at risk of closing within a year, while thousands are cutting back services and issuing redundancy risk notices, it has been revealed.

A nationwide survey of Sure Start children’s centre managers, carried out by 4Children and Daycare Trust, found that around 60,000 families are set to lose their children’s centre over the next 12 months.

While 250 children’s centres are at risk of closure, a further 2,000 are cutting back the services they offer to families and 1,000 are issuing “at risk of redundancy notices” to staff. As many as 3,100 centres (86%) will have a decreased budget.

The findings provide the first national data on the impact of public spending cuts to Sure Start children’s centres.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: “We know that local authorities have some extremely difficult spending decisions to make but investment now will lead to real savings in the long term. Families across the country, particularly the most vulnerable, depend on Sure Start children’s centres to help get their children off to the best start in life.

She said councils urgently needed to find new ways to ensure children’s centres “earn their keep” by allowing them to become genuine hubs for all children and familiy services in communities; reducing replication and improving the impact of services. “Voluntary and community organisations stand ready to help councils find innovative solutions to these funding dilemmas,” she said.

Anand Shukla, acting chief executive of Daycare Trust, said: “The tragedy of these cuts is that the full extent of Sure Start’s impact on children’s development will only be achieved in the long term – and the impending closure of so many centres means this investment will not now be fully realised.”

Frank Field MP, the government’s adviser on child poverty and life chances, said: “It is inconceivable that we can make the foundation years effective if Sure Start children’s centres are being slaughtered. Local authorities must seek to employ innovative methods to ensure families – especially the poorest families – do not lose the vital support they need.”

The survey follows calls from Graham Allen MP for a national body to oversee the operation and funding of early intervention, including the role of children’s centres in reversing the life chances of vulnerable families.

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