Councillor Jane Pickard, Cabinet Member for Families and Young People, blogs on Tory funding cuts that threaten Lambeth's successful children's centres
Lambeth’s Children’s Centres are a real success story – all 23 are rated good or outstanding by OFSTED and offer a range of universal services, as well as targeted services for the most needy families. They are mostly run in partnership with our schools and in areas of deprivation and high need they can be a lifeline, which is why Lambeth Labour promised to protect Children’s Centre services in our 2014 manifesto.
Over the summer the Department of Education (DfE) made a surprise announcement about how ‘Early Years’ funding will be calculated which could put all of this at risk. Lambeth is one of the few boroughs that could lose out considerably, with a potential £2m cut to our grant and a restriction on how much money can be retained by the council to redistribute on services. While lots of other councils use this retained funding for “internal” costs such as admin and back office, the bulk of Lambeth’s retained funding goes straight back to schools to spend on front line services for children and their families.
Even though the Tory manifesto promised to increase nursery places for three and four year olds, the DfE’s latest plans will just put existing places in Lambeth at risk. As usual the Tories are ignoring evidence of local need by trying to implement a universal funding formula across the country. This just doesn’t work when staff costs and rents are so much higher in inner London boroughs like Lambeth. Our five Nursery Schools currently provide over 6,000 hours of outstanding free provision for three and four year olds, but this will be under real threat from the funding proposals.
In particular, the new funding proposals would exacerbate inequality in our borough. Only children whose parents are in work would be entitled to the 30 hours a week. If their parents lost their jobs, the children's entitlement could be shaved back to 15 hours. At present, the we use some of our early years funding to provide 30 hours a week to children in greatest need from families suffering higher levels of deprivation. As many of these families are out of work, some of the children would lose their eligibility. So the poorest three and four-year-olds will potentially have had less access to early learning when they start school, becoming doubly disadvantaged.
Lambeth responded formally to the DfE consultation in September but with no confirmation on how much funding will be available, I have written to the minister, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, along with my colleagues Cllr Jane Edbrooke and Cllr Claire Holland, urging her to rethink their plans to ensure no borough is worse off as a result of these changes.
We have already been forced to cut spending on Children’s Centres by £2.9m since 2015 because of Tory cuts, but have still managed to keep all our Centres open. These latest cuts could have a disastrous impact in Lambeth and result in a severe funding shortfall for these crucial services for young children and their families.
In areas of high need and deprivation – where help to give children the best start in life is especially important – this is a perverse impact that must be avoided.