Hunt said his party would not finalise its child wellbeing strategy until the end of the year, but added there is “a strong case” for early education outcomes to be an overarching principle throughout the strategy.
Speaking at an NSPCC conference, Hunt confirmed that the wellbeing strategy will be an update of Every Child Matters (ECM), the previous Labour government’s popular children’s strategy, which was used across the children’s sector throughout the previous decade to define the scope of services and measure outcomes.
He said: “It will build on the principle of ECM but more accurately reflect 21st century childhood. ECM outcomes are a decent start and in many local authorities they are still shaping service delivery, but surely they need reshaping.”
Hunt added that it would be hard to justify funding services that did not deliver improved educational outcomes – he cited baby yoga as an example – when money is tight.
“In the context of scarce resources it can’t be right to fund activities with dubious impact for cognitive development,” he said.
If Labour wins the May 2015 general election it is unlikely to pump additional money into children’s services, Hunt said, because of the “scary spending situation” it is likely to inherit.
“In reality there will be no magic funding wand Labour can wave,” he added. “We have to think smarter about what we do with precious resources.”
That is likely to mean the closure of 580 children’s centres over the past four years due to local funding cuts will not be reversed, Hunt suggested.
“There will be challenges about that provision. Are universal services best delivered in having a children’s centre in every community? We should use the difficult economic circumstances we inherit to look at innovation,” he added.
Labour has heavily criticised the government for the number of children's centre closures since 2010.