Monday 14 February 2011

Cathnor Park Children’s Centre Cut Indicative Of The Tories' Attack On The Renowned Sure Start Programme

H&F's Conservative politicians said they were too "busy" to
attend the Cathnor Park Children's Centre closure meeting.
I counted just over one hundred parents, grandparents and carers at Cathnor Park Children's Centre last Thursday. At 1.00pm they had squeezed into the state of the art centre, their rain soaked cloths being the least of their concerns as they listened to an official set out a massive reduction in the services available to their young children. H&F Conservatives had cut the centres budget from £455,000 per year to £19,000.

OFSTED had rated the facility as “outstanding.” The people in the ro
om told how it was "essential." A grandfather testified how he had brought up children in an era when Sure Start didn't exist and could contrast that with the positive difference it was making to his grandchildren's lives. But the Cathnor Park Children's Center's card was marked at a Cabinet Meeting on the 10th January when the Conservative Administration cut the Sure Start budget by £3.4 million. Meetings like this are happening up and down the Borough as 16 Sure Start Centre's are being cut to just six “hub” services. There will also be ten “spoke” services but officials privately tell us “not much if anything will happen in those.”

The Cathnor Park Children’s Centre is one of the few to have facilities for children with hearing difficulties; it provides crucial health and family advice to all that go there and one mother in the audience told how her children had cried when they learned that the playgroups would go. It was an emotional meeting as people realised that, despite the Council’s spin, most of the current beneficiaries of the service would now go without.

There was no sign of the Conservatives Cabinet Member for Education who, it transpired, had chosen to go to a conference instead of meeting the people affected. The Tory Leader of H&F Council had stayed away too so the audience were left with an official who struggled to explain a policy planned by H&F’s Conservative politicians. Andy Slaughter MP (Lab) managed to be there to offer his support so the excuse that Tory politicians were “busy” didn’t go down well with the audience.

Sure Start is an internationally renowned programme designed to give "children the best possible start in life." It was introduced by the Labour Government and there are similar ground-breaking schemes in the United States, Australia and other developed countries. David Cameron backed the scheme and pledged to keep it during the last general election. But on becoming Prime Minister he removed the ring-fencing from it’s funding which has allowed Conservative run Council’s to re-direct the money away from the service.

Hammersmith and Fulham is one of the Council’s taking the harshest line and have ended Sure Start locally in all but name. Many campaign groups are springing up around the Borough to defend their children’s services against this attack. Shout Out For A Sure Start are doing the same nationally.

I think ending Sure Start is a horribly short term measure that will be completely detrimental to children’s life chances. It will also have a negative effect on Britain’s long term competitiveness in the increasingly globalised economy.

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