Sure Start saved from cuts

SUFFOLK: Cuts to children’s centres in the county have been put on hold after an intervention from The Evening Star and Ipswich MP Ben Gummer.

But there was a warning from the councillor in charge of children’s services that in future years the centres could be targeted only at those youngsters who need help most.

Last week managers of children’s centres across the county were warned that county council cutbacks meant they would be facing cuts to their budget this year.

Just weeks after deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman visited the Treehouse Children’s Centre in Clapgate Lane it was threatened with cuts of �16,000.

This was despite Mr Gummer leading a protest against Ms Harman’s visit, saying that Labour claims of a threat to Sure Start funding were a political smear.

Those cuts have been shelved for now following an intervention from cabinet member Graham Newman – but he did warn there could be changes to funding in future years.

Mr Newman said: “The government did give an assurance that no Sure Start centres would be closed – but in future years it may well look at different ways of targeting services.

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“I have instructed managers to ensure that any reduction in funding resulting from this review does not, in this financial year, affect the core services delivered by children’s centres, to those most in need of them.

“However, in light of further anticipated budget guidance from government and the need to specifically target these services to those in areas of deprivation, there are likely to be changes to funding levels in future years.”

Managers had been told that the cuts would be based on the number of children the centres catered for which meant that the Treehouse, by far the largest in the county, would face one of the largest cuts.

However as well as being the largest centre, the Treehouse also has the highest take-up of youngsters in its catchment area and serves the highest proportion of deprived children of any centre in Suffolk.

It also has the highest number of children from black and minority ethnic groups in Suffolk.

When The Evening Star contacted Mr Gummer for his views on the funding threat he immediately took up the issue with Mr Newman.

Mr Gummer said: “We are great supporters of Sure Start but it should not be about providing subsidised childcare to middle-class parents who can afford it anyway – it should be about helping those who need it most.

“I accept there have to be budget cuts – but they should not be across the board. They should support the centres where the services are most needed, like the Treehouse.”

The move did not impress Ipswich Labour Party.

The leader of the Labour group on the borough council, David Ellesmere, said: “While this u-turn is to be welcomed it looks like it’s only a temporary stay of execution with bigger cuts to come in future.

“The Tories said during the election that they wouldn’t cut Sure Start. It’s clear now that they were lying.”

n Are you worried about the future of Sure Start centres? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk