Sure Start facing uncertain future due to cuts

CHILDREN centres in Hartlepool and east Durham are facing an uncertain future as a result of national cuts in public spending.

National reports suggest hundreds of Sure Start Children Centres face closure this year with thousands of others reducing their services but civic chiefs in Hartlepool have stressed that while they are facing severe budget cuts, no decisions on services have been taken yet.

Hartlepool Borough Council runs eight children’s centres in town that provide families with access to early learning and childcare, family support, health services and support for parents looking for employment.

The local authority has a duty to provide children’s centres to all families with children under the age of five as part of the Sure Start scheme, which is funded by the new Early Intervention Grant.

The grant has been slashed by 21 per cent this year, as previously reported by the Mail.

A study by families charity 4Children and the Daycare Trust suggests 250 Sure Start Children’s Centres are expected to close, 2,000 will provide a reduced service and 3,100 will have a smaller budget.

A council spokesman said: “Sure Start funding has not been ring-fenced and is now part of the Early Intervention Grant (EIG).

“This grant has been reduced by 21 per cent overall which clearly has created some stark choices for the council over the services we are able to provide using this grant.

“As a council we are doing everything possible to maintain services and jobs wherever we can but we can only work within the significant financial constraints laid down by the Government.

“No final decisions will be made about the future of any services until the full council meets on February 10.”

Children’s minister Sarah Teather said: “The new Early Intervention Grant gives local authorities the freedom and flexibility to make the best decisions for the families in their communities.”