The figures, based on a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to all local authorities by the political party, show that the number of ‘designated’ children’s centres across the country have fallen from 3, 631 in April 2010 to 3,003 this month. This is equivalent to the closure of nearly three centres a week.
The Labour party’s analysis also shows that of the children’s centres that remain, many have seen their services, opening hours and staff numbers reduced.
Local authority responses to Labour’s FOI reveal that one in ten Sure Start centres provides fewer services, one in six has reduced its opening hours, and one in five has fewer staff than in 2010. These figures could be higher as some local authorities failed to respond to the party.
Labour's shadow minister for childcare and children, Lucy Powell, said, ‘The Government promised to protect Sure Start but have delivered only failure. Thanks to them there are 628 fewer centres than there were in 2010, and those that remain are under pressure and face an uncertain future.
‘Labour is committed to renewing and reinvigorating Sure Start. We will reform the way local services work together to shift from sticking-plaster services to radical early help to provide good quality support to all families that need it.
‘Sure Start is intrinsic to Labour values of giving every child the best start and for putting early intervention at the heart of public service reform. That’s why we will renew our commitments to Sure Start through reforming how services are delivered and prioritised.
‘If Sure Start is to continue providing quality support and services to families across the country, we need a Government that will make it a policy priority and provide direction. This means working closely with local authorities and learning the lessons from places that are managing to reshape what they offer when money is tight.’
However, the Department for Education (DfE) has contested the figures, claiming that just 76 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'We want to see a strong network of children's centres in place across the country. Since 2010, only 76 Sure Start centres have closed and six have opened. A recent survey showed more than a million families are now using these centres — a record number - and they are reaching more than 90 per cent of families most in need.
'Councils are best placed to decide how to organise these services. That is why we are increasing funding for early education and intervention to £4.6 billion to help them best meet the needs of children and parents in their area.'