City's children's centres cut daycare provision to focus on outreach services


Manchester City Council has hit back at reports that it intends to close its children's centres and replace them with outreach services.

Council representatives told a committee of MPs and peers last week that they had no intention of closing the centres but confirmed that they would be withdrawing from providing full daycare provision, because there is sufficient market capacity to provide it. The centres will be 're-purposed as community assets', said the council.

But Sharon Hodgson MP, shadow children's minister, said, 'What you are describing is a community centre, not a children's centre.'

The council is faced with having to cut £22m from its budget of £29m for early years provision and is having a three-month consultation on the plans.

Mike Livingstone, director of children's services, said that whereas they currently serve around 25 per cent of under-fives, the change of focus to outreach, working with midwives, health visitors and GPs, will enable them to reach 85 per cent of children in this age group.

Matt Dunkley, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, told the All Party Parliamentary Sure Start group that most local authorities were in a 'managed retreat' from universal provision in the face of funding cuts and were moving to greater targeting of services, with new models of provision emerging.

He said 'the race is on to find stiletto-like interventions' to target the neediest families and that there was 'a shift to family-facing policies that were not solely looking at the needs of the child'.

Asked about the number of children's centres that are closing, Mr Dunkley said there were 'a lot of different estimates'. He said some areas were moving to different models of management, such as hub-and-spoke, while in others the use of centres had fallen so low they were forced to close.

In the London Borough of Haringey, children's centres are moving to a cluster model in the face of 47 per cent of their funding being cut, and cuts of 75 per cent to youth services.

Nottinghamshire council confirmed that while 60 per cent of children's centres were run by the council, the intention was to move to external providers for all of them and that they would also be operated on a cluster model.

In Cambridgeshire, the intention is to keep all 40 children's centres open and maintain some universal services.

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