Somerset County Council is being urged to listen to the views of a cross-party group of MPs, who have come out against closure of Children’s Centres.
The Tory-led council is considering a plan to “de-register” 27 of the 41 Children’s Centres across the county. The centres run the Sure Start programme – a successful initiative brought in by Labour to help families with young children.
Part of the rationale behind the proposed cuts is that help should be concentrated on the most disadvantaged areas of the county. But a report by the All Party Parliamentary Sure Start Group dismisses that idea. It says:
“The Group does not support the call from some for large-scale closures, or an exclusive focus on disadvantaged communities. One third of poor children do not live in poor areas, and there are challenges that affect early childhood experience which are not exclusive to poor families.
The report – titled Best Practice for a Sure Start – argues that Children’s Centres should be available to all families, saying: “We fear that – at a time when we want Children’s Centres to do more to engage hard to reach families – the stigma that such a policy [of concentrating on the disadvantaged] would create would be deleterious to this work”
Counter productive to downgrade
West Somerset Labour Party is pressing the County Council to reconsider its plans. The branch has written to Dulverton and Exmoor councillor Frances Nicholson, who is the cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services. Branch secretary Andy Lewis said: “We are urging Councillor Nicholson to look carefully at the well-researched report by MPs from both sides in the House of Commons. It makes clear that Children’s Centres and the Sure Start programme are very valuable and that it would be counter-productive to downgrade them.”
A consultation on the future of Children’s Centres is now going on. Submissions can be made on the County Council website.