DfE deletes evidence of Sure Start closures from website

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The Department for Education has removed all figures on the number of Sure Start centres that have closed from the gov.uk website.

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Elizabeth Truss revealed the figures have been deleted during Parliamentary questions

The education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss revealed during Parliamentary questions that the figures have been deleted as part of a ‘data cleanse’ exercise.

However, the Labour party claims that the Government is trying to hide the truth about the number of Sure Start centres that have closed since it came into power in 2010.

In answer to a question posed by Labour MP Harriet Harman in which she asked for recent figures on the number of children’s centres in each local authority area, Ms Truss replied, ‘My department has carried out a data-cleansing and survey exercise to assure me of the level of confidence in figures provided by local authorities on the Sure Start database.’

Ms Truss appeared to suggest the reason behind the ‘data cleanse’ was inaccuracies in figures for the number of Sure Start centres in 2010. While it was thought there were 3,631 centres, she said there were actually 3,615 as 15 centres did not open and there was one duplicate record entered on to the database completed by local authorities.

Ms Truss went on to say that there were 3,055 children’s centres in November 2013 and a further 501 sites open to parents and children providing services as part of a network.

She added, ‘To ensure that the data presented to the public is as accurate as possible, the Government will now review the way in which children’s centre data is collected from local authorities and presented on the gov.uk website.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said,  ‘It is completely untrue to claim that hundreds of children's centres have closed - in fact only 65 have closed since 2010. Many local authorities have successfully cut management and bureaucracy while keeping children's centre services running. Funding provided to local Councils for early intervention has risen from £2.1bn to £2.5bn under this Government.

'The website now provides parents with the most up to the date number and location of children’s centres and sites offering children's centre services, with greater clarity. This will be updated regularly.’

Labour’s shadow minister for childcare and children Lucy Powell, who last year was in debate with the Government about how many Sure Start centres have closed since it came into power, said, ‘The Government might have deleted this information from the website but they can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes.

‘In communities across the country, Sure Start centres are closing or opening for shorter and shorter hours. This is another broken promise from this Tory-led Government.’

‘They may have taken this information off the Government website but they can’t hide the truth. There are fewer and fewer Sure Start centres and services are being slashed.’