Survey reveals extent of budget cuts to children's centres

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More than £82m has been cut from children’s centre budgets, according to figures from public sector union Unison.

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Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, says cuts to centres will force parents to look for more expensive childcare

Following a Freedom of Information request to all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, the union has published a regional breakdown showing how cuts are affecting areas across the county.

According to the figures, 292 children’s centres have closed or merged since 2010.

London has experienced the greatest losses with 67 centres closed or merged during this period, followed by the Eastern region and Yorkshire and Humberside, which have each lost 39 centres.

Regions with the biggest percentage cuts to children’s centre budgets were the West Midlands (25.4%), Yorkshire and Humberside (21.6%) and the South West and North West (both 21.1%).

However, some areas have managed so far not to cut any centres despite budget cuts.

The councils with the greatest budget cuts were Manchester at £4.9m and Essex with £3.3m. However, neither of these said it had closed or merged any  centres.

Lincolnshire has lost 23 centres, but did not provide any information on its budget.

Meanwhile, Cornwall has closed 22 centres and lost £2.2m in its budget and Birmingham has lost £6.3m and closed or merged 14 children’s centres. Luton has experienced a cut of £1.6m and now has 16 fewer children’s centres.

Just over three-quarters (76 per cent) of all local authorities responded to the FOI request.

A separate survey of 7,500 women carried out by Unison found that 60 per cent of respondents said that there were now fewer services available at their local children’s centre, with a similar proportion (59 per cent) reporting shorter opening or operating hours. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents said that children’s centres had fewer staff than before.

Unison head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said, ‘Children's centres used to be the hub of local communities, providing day trips, summer activities and social groups for free or low cost. 

‘But the severe cuts being imposed on local councils by the Tory Government mean that services are being cut back or scrapped altogether, forcing parents who are already struggling to find extra money to pay for childcare or expensive alternatives.  

‘The Government must seriously look at new sources of funding for vital community services such as children’s centres, and give local councils a much bigger say in how they use that money.’

However, the Department for Education disputed the figures and said that since 2010, only 76 centres have closed and 6 new centres have opened.

A spokesperson said, 'We want to see a strong network of children’s centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services.

'In fact, a recent survey showed that under this Government, a record number of parents — more than a million — are now using children’s centres and they are reaching over 90 per cent of families most in need.

'Councils are best placed to decide how to organise these services. We are also increasing funding for early education and intervention to £4.6 billion to help them meet local need.'