Bennett Cllr Nicholas Bennett, a member of Bromley Council’s Children and Young People’s Policy and Scrutiny Committee, comments on allegations during yesterday’s PMQs regarding the Council’s policy on Children’s Centres.

Ed Miliband claimed “Conservative-run Bromley Council is shutting 13 of its 16 children’s centres”.

The Prime Minister responded that “The money for Sure Start is there so centres don’t have to close”.

No Bromley Children’s Centres are closing in the coming year.

Currently the funding for Children and Family Centres is from specific Sure Start Grant, for the next financial year Sure Start grant has been included in a new un-ring fenced grant, the Early Intervention Grant (EIG). The EIG comprises a number of previously specific grants to deliver statutory services, including Connexions, Sure Start, Short Breaks for Disabled Children and others. The baseline for the EIG in Bromley is £13.4m; however, the Government have reduced that by £2.4m. This reduction in the EIG is in addition to reductions in the main Government grant to the Council and has lead to a reappraisal of the Council’s Children and Family Centre Programme.

The proposals currently out for consultation will result in five of the phase three centres which are in the least deprived areas of the borough not being built and a further 15 centres not being funded by the Council in future. The Centres that will remain are in the most deprived areas of the borough with an additional borough-wide service for children with disabilities.

When the grant for creating Children’s Centres was introduced I and many of my colleagues were highly critical of it. All us recognise that a child’s future is shaped by its early years. Children whose of upbringing does not enable them to thrive and learn are placed at a severe disadvantage and the concept of targeted help under Sure Start was a worthy one.

The Labour Government, as so often (remember Blair’s memo demanding ‘eye catching initiatives with which I can be associated’?), preferred to see money invested in buildings rather than services which directly help those in need. Demands for a glossy new children’s centre in every ward, together with ‘Contactpoint’ a vast data base on every child seemed to us to be stages on the march to nationalise childhood.

This blanket approach was both unnecessary and wasteful. We argued that we would get better value for money if we identified the children who needed help and if necessary expanded the health and family welfare visitors programme. We also advocated reuniting the adult and children social work teams- deprived children do not live in isolation they inhabit a deprived home and usually have an inadequate parent who needs help.

Our proposals, if adopted, will see the Sure Start programme returned to its original purpose of providing support for the most disadvantaged children and families. It is envisaged that the remaining centres will act as a service hub with some services taking place at the centre and others in the local community. The two centres which are likely to remain are also those providing day care so that parents can return to work.

In addition to the remaining centres, we are investing in the Bromley Children Project using grant funding. This service will continue to support early intervention and target families which might otherwise go on to require support from services such as social care or Children’s mental health services.