Stoke-on-Trent City Council was considering closing the children's centres as part of a move to save around £33m over the next four years (News, 18 November 2010). But following a public consultation, the council has announced that it intends to protect the settings.
The council has decided to close libraries, care homes and a swimming pool instead of the children's centres.
Mohammed Pervez, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said, 'During our consultation process we listened to our residents and elected members. They expressed concern about the closure of children's centres and emphasised their importance within our communities. This has led us to protect all the centres in our proposals. We are also proposing to keep the respite care for disabled children at weekends. I think these two key changes from the original budget proposals gives a clear demonstration that we want to protect the most vulnerable in our city.'
Campaigners against the proposals to close the children's centres handed in a petition with 6,500 signatures in December.
Meanwhile, the Government has been told to 'grow up' by its poverty advisor Frank Field, and to get a grip on local authority spending cuts which threaten to 'scupper the life chances of poor children'.
The Labour MP, who has drawn up the Government's child poverty strategy, said in an interview with The Times that the national network of Sure Start centres would be 'decimated' by council cuts unless David Cameron intervenes immediately.
Mr Field said that it was not good enough for the Government to say there was enough money in the budget to maintain the existing network of Sure Start centres.
'The Government needs urgently to step in,' he said. 'I see Sure Start as the biggest agent of change for addressing poverty and increasing social mobility in this country, but some local authorities are cutting it in half, even though the cut in their budgets is 11 per cent.'
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, 'The next few weeks are make-or-break for Sure Start. Local authorities are making decisions each day which could have a life-long impact on the future of families. Some local authorities are stretching every sinew to protect their children's centres, despite challenging budget pressures. Government ministers have been clear that Sure Start children's centres will play a key role in the future of family support, and we call on them to monitor this situation very closely. Government ministers insist that adequate resources have been provided to protect Sure Start; some local authorities say they haven't.
'Parents don't want to hear central and local government playing pass the political parcel. They just want to know that their children's centre is here to stay.'