Latest Department for Education (DfE) statistics detailing how much local authorities plan to spend in different areas of children’s services, reveal that councils have earmarked a total of £985.3m for Sure Start children’s centres and early years services in 2014/15.
That compares with £1,093.2m last year, a drop of £107.9m in 12 months, and a drop of £413.2m from the £1,398.5m that was forecast to be spent in 2011/12.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said that given the government has identified improving early outcomes and supporting families, particularly those most in need, as policy priorities, it is “highly concerning” that funding for children’s centres is continuing to decline.
“Children’s centres remain an important source of early years care, and provide vital information, support and guidance to parents and carers,” he said.
“However, sustained funding cuts have meant that the services available in many local communities are extremely limited, and a growing number of centres are struggling to stay afloat.
“The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this situation. It cannot continue to extol the value of children’s centres while depriving them of the funding needed to deliver quality services.
“It’s clear that urgent action must be taken to ensure that vulnerable families are able to access the support they need.”
Ian Thomas, director for children and young adults at Derbyshire County Council and chair of the resources and sustainability policy committee at the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said: “Though ADCS and others have concerns about the reliability of section 251 data the publication of this latest dataset indicates that local authorities are continuing to protect and even invest further in statutory safeguarding services at the cost of preventative early offers and youth services.
"Whilst this is not exactly news, the long-term impact of this approach is concerning; if support services are no longer in place to deal with issues before they escalate then there will certainly be longer term cost implications for all local authorities.”
A DfE spokesman said the overall budget for early intervention and early years has increased to £4.6bn in 2014/15 from £4.3bn in 2011/12, which includes funding to increase early education provision for two, three and four year olds and funding to retain a national network of children’s centres.
“We have made clear to local authorities that there is a presumption against closure of children’s centres and where changes are planned to that provision, councils have a duty to consult their local communities,” the spokesman added.
The DfE statistics also show that spending on youth services is predicted to fall, with councils estimating they will spend a total of £621.9m in 2014/15, compared with £712.6 in 2013/14 – a drop of 12.7 per cent.
There are also predicted falls of £14.2m in safeguarding services from £1,935.3m in 2013/14 to £1,921.1m in 2014/15, as well as a predicted £2.6m fall in youth justice spending from £319.3m to £316.7m in 2014/15.
However, predicted spending is set to increase in other areas.
The largest increase is expected to come in looked-after children services, with an estimated spend of £3,370m in 2014/15 compared with £3,262m in 2013/14.
Family support services are also predicted to increase from £938.9m in 2013/14 to £976.8m in 2014/15.