Labour highlights extent of children's centre closures

Laura McCardle
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Analysis from Labour suggests that three Sure Start children's centres have closed every week and that childcare places have also fallen since the government came to power.

Speaking at an event to showcase the party's childcare policies, Labour leader Ed Miliband said government statistics showed that there are 578 fewer children's centres now (3,053) compared to when the coalition was formed in April 2010 (3,631).

Miliband said the closures equated to more than three per week over a three and a half year period, which had resulted in 35,000 childcare places being lost over the same time.

Miliband hit out at the government for breaking its election promise to protect Sure Start centres. He said: "Hundreds of Sure Start centres have been lost, contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. All at a time when the number of children under four in England has risen by 125,000."

But a spokeswoman from the Department for Education questioned Labour's analysis, adding that more parents are using children's centres than ever before.

She said: "There are more than 3,000 Sure Start centres across the country, plus a further 2,000 sites linked to them and a record one million parents using them.

"Just 45 have closed since 2010 and new sites have opened."

Miliband also quoted new figures from a survey by the Daycare Trust and Family and Childcare Trust, which show the average weekly cost of a part-time nursery place has risen by 30 per cent to £107 since 2010.??

This, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics, is in comparison to a six per cent increase in the average weekly earnings during the same time frame.??

Miliband said Labour’s plans to increase free childcare places for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 25, and to provide wraparound care from 8am to 6pm for all primary school pupils, demonstrated the party’s support for families.

??Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and the Early Years (Pacey), welcomed Miliband’s promise of support but said there needs to be a focus on ensuring the plans on offer are deliverable.??

She said: “When promising to extend the free entitlement, or wraparound care in schools, policymakers need to be clear on how they will implement their proposals.??

“There’s no point in promising additional entitlement without ensuring it can be delivered with the flexibility that families need, and funded at a level that covers the setting’s cost of delivering care.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, called on the three main political parties to ensure that support for families is central to their manifestos in the run up to the next election.

??She said: “4Children is urging each of the main political parties to put forward bold, relevant policies on childcare ahead of the general election, which will help families with the daily challenges they face in finding childcare which allows them to work, remain financially independent and also supports their family.”

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