Latest Public Sector News

02.02.15

Five years of severe cuts for children’s centre services

Some local authorities across England have had to cut their funding for children’s centres by more than two-thirds in the past five years, an investigation by PSE's David Stevenson has found. 

Responses so far to FoI requests to the 151 single-tier and county councils in England responsible for children’s social care show how most councils have remained resilient in the face of severe funding cuts. 

For example, Warwickshire County Council had to reduce its funding for children’s centres by 40%, from £8.1m in 2010-11 to £4.8m in 2014-15, but it has not closed any of its 39 centres. The council told us it has cut opening hours instead. 

Hull City Council similarly revealed that it now runs 21 children’s centres, the same number as in 2010, despite having to cut funding by 57% from £7.9m since then to £3.4m in 2014-15. However, three of its sites have had to reduce their opening hours and the services they provide. 

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council reduced its funding for children’s centres by 71%, from £9.9m in 2010-11 to £2.8m in 2015-16. The cuts included staff reductions, but not centre closures. However, from 1 April 2015, the council is ‘reconfiguring’ its service: instead of 22 registered centres, it will have 12 plus 10 ‘linked centre’ sites. 

Children’s centres bring together a range of services for children from birth to five years old, their families and carers. Most of the funding for the centres comes from general children’s services funding, which is, for the most part, not ring-fenced.

A recent report by the London School of Economics found that the number of Sure Start centres fell from 3,631 in April 2010 to 3,019 in June 2014, though the government insisted that the net loss was only 72 centres, because many were mergers rather than closures. 

The scale of the funding cuts mean some previously protected centres are now under threat, however. 

Liverpool City Council, which has been forced to reduce its funding for children’s centres by 55.3%, from £14.6m in 2010-11 to £6.54m in 2014-15, has not closed any centres but has merged some. Back in 2010, it had 26 registered centres but now has 17. 

However, this could soon change. As PSE went to press, the local authority had started an eight-week consultation on reorganising its centres, retaining seven of the existing sites and 94 (full-time equivalent) of its 157 staff.  

Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: “Sure Start has been a great success since it began and reflects the need to support parents and children in their early years to give them the best start in life. 

“As a former children’s social worker, it is clearly inconceivable that I would choose to make these cuts, and in an ideal world we wouldn’t consider closing any of them – but the government has given us no choice by withdrawing the money to pay for them. 

“We started this process at a point where we only had funding for four centres, but have managed to get it up to seven by securing additional cash from our partners.” 

Derbyshire County Council has also put forward proposals to cut the opening hours at 10 of its 54 children's centres, and close two (Ashbourne and Duffield) completely. 

The closures would save the local authority – which needs to cut £157m from its budget by 2018 – more than £200,000 a year. Cllr Kevin Gillott, Derbyshire’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Reducing our children's centre services and closing any buildings is the last thing we want to do but sadly we have no choice as we're facing such a huge budget reduction. 

“We’re doing everything in our power to limit the impact of the cuts we’re having to make and keep essential services available for the children, families and communities we serve.” 

Some authorities have managed to get by on a funding freeze for children’s centres, though this does not account for inflation. For instance, Hertfordshire County Council is still receiving £13m to fund its 82 centres: the same as in 2010. 

Royal Borough of Greenwich is rare in that its children’s centre funding actually increased between 2010-11 and 2014-15, from £5.8m to £6m. Originally the local authority was paying for 24 single centres, but these are now commissioned as five areas with 14 lead centres for 24 federated and single centres. 

PSE will bring you the full results of the FoI investigation and analysis in the April/May 2015 edition of the magazine.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Cllr Jane Streather   02/02/2015 at 14:16

Thankyou for this information it is interesting to see how other LAs are managing these budget reductions. Newcastle City Council has had to take a 36% cut to Sure Start and related services. After many months of deliberation and extensive consultations we have agreed a new model of investment of £7.5m which includes £400k from the Public Health budget to give children a good start in life. The model is complex with innovative features e.g. the Community Family Hub. Full details can be found on the Newcastle City Council website, Cllrs and Democracy, Business Cabinet 28th January Agenda item 4. Inevitably we have had to cut back on a universal service but we hope that the new model can be built on should budget circumstances improve. Cllr Jane Streather Deputy Cabinet Member (Early years and Public Health)

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