Council could cut Sure Start provision by one third

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Sure Start provision in the London borough of Barnet could be cut by almost a third.

Cost-saving proposals presented at the Conservative-led council's cabinet meeting on Monday (13 December) suggest reducing provision by 30 per cent as part of a bid to cut overall spending by £43m over three years.

Under the plans, resources would be concentrated on the 70 per cent most deprived areas, and the range of services offered by children's centres would be reduced.

Staff at children's centres in Barnet have been given notice that they may face redundancy.

The council's plan to reduce Sure Start provision follows central Government's removal of ring fencing from local authority budgets (News, 27 October).

Jenny Borst, whose son goes to Newstead Children's Centre, one of the settings under threat, said, 'Closing Newstead would have a massive impact on a lot of parents. It's an excellent centre and my son is very happy there. I don't think the council has any understanding of how difficult it will be for parents to find alternative childcare. There are children at Newstead children's centre who have severe special educational needs and they get a lot of support.'

Newstead, which was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2008 for its nursery provision, has recently undergone a £1m overhaul.

Consultation on which settings will close is due to start in January, but there are fears that only a handful of the council's 21 children's centres will remain open.

Alison Moore, Labour councillor for Finchley, said, 'These centres are just starting to have an effect and positively impact children's lives. Kids who go to these centres start school more confident and achieve better. The Conservative administration says it is being used as cheap middle-class childcare, but that's not true. There is pressure on primary school places in the borough, so it stands to reason there is pressure on nursery places, and this would increase that.'

A council spokesman said, ‘The council is facing significant financial challenges with the latest indications from government suggesting it will have to reduce its spending by 26 per cent over the next four years and these proposals around Sure Start provision reflect that fact.

‘The priority in preparing this budget is safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children, which will mean that every pound we spend will create a much more fit for purpose service targeted at families in higher need.

‘Since publishing its budget outline on 20 October, the council has added an additional £2.5 million to its child protection budget - which is separate from the Sure Start grant - to support work in prevention and to cope with a rise in referrals to child protection.

‘The council is beginning a public consultation on these proposals which will allow parents and other users to voice their opinions.’

Information on the campaign is at www.savenewstead.com

  • Campaigners fighting to save seven children's centres in Stoke from closure have handed in a petition with more than 6,500 signatures. Stoke-on-Trent City Council published plans to close the children's centres last month amid cuts to its budget of almost £33m over the next four years (News, 17 November). Campaigners hope to secure more than 10,000 signatures on their petitions before they address councillors on 27 January.
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