Speaking at Capita's Early Years Provision conference in London yesterday (24 January) Margaret Hodge said that when a new policy is introduced it is 'right' to ring-fence funding until it is embedded in local authority services. 'After a period of around five years, local authorities should then be left to make their own choices,' she said.
The conference brought together a panel including shadow children and families minister Sharon Hodgson and Conservative MP Craig Whittaker, to debate the challenges of the two-year-old roll out.
Questions from the floor centred on funding. A delegate from Barnet LA said that councillors set priorities and because money was not ring-fenced it was a battle to justify spending to ‘the masters’.
‘At the point at which you remove ring-fencing, money can be moved around and used in other parts of children’s services,’ he said. ‘On the one hand you have the DfE saying this is your allocation and on the other you have councillors saying what the money should be spent on. There is an inherent contradiction.’
Another delegate, from Tower Hamlets, said that ‘non ring-fencing combined with a statutory duty does not stack up’.
Mr Whittaker dismissed arguments for ring-fencing, and likened it to his children being given pocket money. He told delegates – ‘You are bigger and better than that’.MORE DATA NEEDED
Ms Hodgson said, ‘The two-year-old offer is a long term ambition and there are pressing cost worries around the 2013 funding allocations, particularly in outer London boroughs. Sure Start no longer has a remit to provide daycare so it can’t absorb the two-year-old offer. Nick Clegg announced that an additional 65,000 staff would be needed to support this but with 40 per cent cuts to local training budgets, where are they going to come from?’
Producing data which proves the link between funding and outcomes was key to the long-term success and sustainability of the offer, said Margaret Hodge.
‘With regard to two-year-olds we know far too little about what works best. More data is needed to ensure that funding is going to the right places to boost outcomes for children.
She emphasised that the focus of the free entitlement was on early child development support – not to provide childcare for parents.
Mr Whittaker called for more support for the sector from banks and lenders and said that more start-ups should benefit from the Loan Guarantee Scheme.