Debbie Abrahams has attacked cutbacks to Sure Start and other services for families in our area. The Saddleworth MP said funding for local children would be cut by £70 per child in the coming financial year, because of savings at Oldham Council.
The council is cutting £920,000 from its Sure Start budget in 2011/12, after the government removed the ringfencing from the initiative, allowing local authorities to make their own minds up about how to fund children’s centres.
That sum is just under 10% of the scheme’s budget in the borough. However, the Liberal Democrat/Conservative administration which runs the council has insisted no Sure Start centres will close, with the savings instead being found through the centralisation of teaching services, merging of management, and a £400,000 cut in health support funding.
The Labour group on the council actually accepted the £920,000 Sure Start savings in its alternative budget proposals. But Labour’s Ms Abrahams has taken aim at the government, accusing ministers of forcing councils to “do their dirty work for them” by cutting funding. Oldham had to make £41m of savings for the coming financial year, £21m of which were directly caused by a loss of Whitehall grants.
Ms Abrahams said: “The Prime Minister made a personal promise to protect and build on Sure Start. Now we know that these were just hollow words and yet another broken promise to the families of Oldham.”
Her statement went on: “Of course all services need to look to be more efficient, but cuts which go too far and too fast could mean poorer services for children and families and maybe even a loss of some Sure Start centres. They provide real help to thousands of children and parents across the Oldham area, and it would be a real tragedy if some of them were forced to close when they have just begun to pay real dividends.”
Presenting the budget to last week’s full council meeting, the council’s Lib Dem leader Howard Sykes insisted the effect on council services would be kept to a minimum.
He said: “This administration is about long term decisions that create solid foundations for our borough. The council now knows what it spends, where it spends it and has an open and transparent budgetary process second to none.”
Cllr Sykes added: “Having said that, there are still challenges, which will require us to take many more millions out of the budget over the next few years, but we will deliver, and it will be done with minimum impact on frontline services.”
The figure of £70 per child quoted by Ms Abrahams came from research carried out by Labour into cuts to children’s services across the country. The data was provided by the House of Commons library.
According to the statistics, overall funding for so-called ‘early intervention’ services such as Sure Start will be down 22%, with an average reduction of £50 per child across England.