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Losing cash ring-fence could put Sure Start at risk, claim managers

Sure Start Children's Centre managers say they are particularly vulnerable to cuts in the current economic climate, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

There are due to be 3,500 centres by March, which provide childcare, early education, health and family services. Funding has increased to #163;885 million in 200809, compared to #163;473 million three years previously.

The NAO, in a report for the Commons' children, schools and families committee, found that 92 per cent of centres surveyed expected to break even or be under budget in 200809.

But when asked about the childcare aspect alone, 53 per cent of authorities run it at loss and 59 per cent of authorities said little or no childcare is funded by charging parents.

The report also warned that four out of 10 authorities think that not enough money is being earmarked for maintenance.

The report's authors stated that children's centres' funding was protected currently, but if the funding all went into one pot, authorities would be tempted to prioritise schools and child-protection.

"Many centre managers and local authorities raised the possible removal of the ring-fence around children's centre funding," the report says.

"Some were concerned that if the ring-fence was removed, children's centres could lose out ... They were concerned that they had not yet had time to demonstrate impact, and that local authorities might prioritise the more established services that they were more familiar with."

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