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Labour MP expresses concern over closure of more than 370 Sure Start children's centres

Article By: Charley Walker, News Editor

A total of 377 Sure Start children’s centres have closed since 2010, according to recent parliamentary answers.

Information obtained by Labour MP Dan Jarvis revealed that 64 Sure Start centres closed in 2016 according to local authority data, while 313 closed between 2010 and 2015, making a total of 377.

In 2015, 156 Sure Start centres were closed, which was almost double the figure for 2014.

When asked how many new centres had open over this period, childcare minister Caroline Dinenage revealed that just eight had opened since April 2010.

Mr Jarvis, who submitted the questions to the Department for Education, expressed concern over what these closures and cuts could mean for “the future wellbeing of our children,” stating that the Government has broken its promise to protect the scheme, risking children’s futures.

He said: “The lack of real investment in early years education is deeply concerning. The government should be supporting Sure Start children’s centres, not closing them.

“Giving our children the best possible start in life should be a priority for every government.”

According to Mr Jarvis, spending on the centres in the 2015-2016 financial year was 47 per cent less in real terms than in 2010, with £60m more real-term cuts planned this year.

The Labour MP, who on 3 February put a bill before the House of Common on tackling child poverty, recently visited a Sure Start centre in Athersley and heard “remarkable” stories of the impact the centre has had on families and particularly their children who use it.

He said: “These local efforts must be supported at the national level and this is the time to make that happen.

“The experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies project that levels of relative child poverty will increase by 50 per cent by 2020.

“One in five people now highlight poverty as one of the biggest challenges facing our country.

“Poverty destroys childhoods and limits futures. Ending that burning injustice should be a defining mission for the Government.”

The Sure Start system was established in 1998 by the Labour government with the aim of “giving children the best possible start in life” by improving childcare, early education, health and family support.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We are investing a record £6bn in childcare per year by 2020 and this includes extra support for disadvantaged families.

“Many councils are merging centres to allow services to be delivered more efficiently.

“Where they decide to close a children’s centre site, they must demonstrate that the outcomes for children would not be adversely affected and will not compromise the duty to have sufficient children’s centres to meet local need.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “While we recognise that local authorities are facing significant budget cuts, we are extremely concerned about the scale of the reduction in children’s centre services.

“What may seem like a cost-cutting measure in the short term is likely to have a long-lasting effect on children and families, and so it is vital that local and central government work together to look at how to tackle this trend, and ensure that those families that are in most need of support have access to it.

“We remain disappointed that the government hasn’t launched its long overdue consultation into the future of children’s centres, the results of which would inform help policy decisions around these important services.”


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