Sure Start Children’s Centres are one of the most important developments in recent years. The last Labour government set them up in 1998 with the aim of “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community. The aim was to set up 250 Sure Start Local Programmes, reaching up to 150,000 children in areas of deprivation. Ireland Wood Children’s Centre and the one at Shire Oak in Headingley are just two of them.
The Labour Government initially pledged to fund Sure Start for 10 years. But in 2003, the Government announced its long-term plan to transfer Sure Start into the control of local government by 2005, and to create a Sure Start Children’s Centre in every community. Labour followed this up with the provision of funding to open 2,500 Sure Start Children’s Centres by 2008, and 3,500 by 2010.
Under the Labour Government which set them up, the funding that Local Authorities received for Sure Start was ‘ring-fenced’. That meant that it had to be spent on Sure Start. However, when this Tory-LibDem Government was elected in 2010, it decided to remove the ring-fence from the Sure Start grant. Coupled with the cuts to Local Government finance – also imposed by the Coalition – this proved disastrous in many areas.
Local Authorities suffered cuts of £28billion to their budgets over four years. The removal of the ring-fence left Sure Start centres across the country facing an uncertain future, as cash-strapped councils faced tough decisions. There are fears that up to 250 Sure Start centres could close as a result. Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Michael Gove has admitted that funding for Sure Start has not been protected. Up and down the country a number of local councils have announced cuts to their Sure Start budgets.
On the eve of the 2010 general election, David Cameron said he backed Sure Start centres. Yet within the first 18 months of this Tory-LibDem Coalition taking office, 124 Sure Start Centres had been closed.
But not here in Leeds.
Despite all these cuts to funding, Labour-run Leeds City Council have managed to keep all Sure Start centres in the city open. The Council fully understands the importance of maintaining all Sure Start centres around the city and is fighting to keep them open.
As your Labour party candidate for Weetwood I am committed to continuing that fight – and to keeping Sure Start centres like those at Ireland Wood and Shire Oak open for families in the community. The centres are an essential service for families with young children. Yet again this government is hitting the most vulnerable in society with their cuts.
A vote for Labour in Weetwood – and Leeds North West – at the local council elections is a vote for maintaining community services like Sure Start.
A vote for Labour in Weetwood – and Leeds North West – is a vote for a team who have those community values at heart.
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