PM asked to explain raid on Sure Start funding

Politicians across all parties have asked the PM to explain why the government appears to be raiding councils early intervention funds to pay for free nursery care for two years olds. Utter confusion surrounds the government’s £1.5bn raid on Sure Start funding to pay for its flagship free nursery scheme for two year olds. This is from the Guardian…

Some of the UK’s leading experts and supporters of early years and family policy have now written to the prime minister, David Cameron, asking him to clarify and intervene to stop a proposal they say will lead to “disproportionate cuts” in preventative social programmes.

The letter is signed by 16 politicians, charity leaders, and senior local government figures, including Graham Allen MP, who has published two government-commissioned reports on early intervention; David Robinson, the founder of Community Links, head of the Early Action taskforce; Dame Clare Tickell, the CEO of Action for Children; andStephen Hughes, the CEO of Birmingham City Council.

The shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg, meanwhile, announced at a Labour Party conference fringe meeting last week that Labour is to hold an opposition day debate on the issue when parliament reconvenes.

The Guardian revealed at the end of last month that ministers plan to scrap the Early Intervention Grant (EIG) from next April. Councils warned that the move would lead to cuts of up to 20% in their early years and family intervention programmes, and could put Sure Start networks and other innovative projects at risk.

The plans were outlined in an obscure Department for Communities and Local Government consultation technical document on business rates retention, slipped out in the Summer. This revealed (page 140) that the £2.3bn fund, once championed by ministers, will be dissolved, and its resources divided up three ways.

The bulk – £1.3n – will go to a ring-fenced schools fund to pay for the ministerial commitment to provide free nursery care for two year olds; £150m will go to an unspecified centrally-controlled early intervention fund; and the remainder wrapped, unringfenced, into local authorities’ general financial settlement.

The Department for Education (DfE) has insisted that there is to be no cut (how can you cut a fund which no longer exists, seemed to be the somewhat abstract philosophical argument), while the Liberal Democrat press office tweeted that the Guardian story was wrong because the funding for free nursery care is “new money” (though it provided no explanation for this assertion or evidence to back it up).

Out in the real world, however, councils remain confused and unconvinced. One senior Tory councillor has called the DfE’s explanation “smoke and mirrors”. Children’s services departments have been working out how the reallocation of the EIG in this way will impact in practice on those projects – from Sure Start to short breaks for disabled children – they currently fund through the grant.

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Categories: Policy and Primary.

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