Saturday, 19 November 2011

Manchester’s Surestart Consultations: A flawed argument

Hulme Greens recently commented on the news that the Council was to cut funding to Manchester’s Sure Start services. These cuts were happening against a back drop of high local child poverty and riots in the city.

As the Council moves forward with its plans, it has started a consultation process outlining its reasons for the Sure Start cuts, proposals for the future, a questionnaire and series of public events.

The extensive public consultations are to be commended, with events over 2 months covering most of the Sure Start venues in the city. (It also helpfully published a Directory of Support for Parents and Carers.)

But Manchester City Council’s arguments put forward for the cuts and the scope of the consultations are misleading and ‘unhelpful’. Its ‘Why are we proposing changes?’ page states

“We need to:

  • Increase the number of families that access the services available (currently less than a third of families in Manchester)
  • Make better use of the buildings we have so they deliver a wider range of services and attract more people to use them
  • Identify those families and children who need extra help (especially children aged 0-3 years) more accurately and quickly to ensure that more children enter school ready to thrive, and more families, parents and carers are supported into work. ”

The first line suggests the 40 Sure Start Centres in the city are under-used and inefficient especially as they are used by ‘less than a third of families in Manchester’.

Though open to all families, the POINT of Sure Start is to help the poorest families in society, to help break the cycle of deprivation and it is recognized as an attempt to do so (page 10).

This is especially important as Manchester is recognized as the ‘child poverty capital of Britain’. Framing Sure Start as a service aimed at all families is wrong and the Council is wrong to do so.

The second line specifically mentions the Sure Start buildings above and again in the questionnaires. At the moment, these are exclusively used for Sure Start and related services. This may not be the case by the end of this process and it is important that these buildings primarily do the job they were built for.

The two areas NOT up for negotiation/ consultation are the

  • increase in childcare fees (from £126 to £150 per week) by nearly 20%
  • reduction of funded childcare provision by 50% to 15 hours per week, the legal minimum.

The combination of these 2 actions will exclude the very families Sure Start was created to support.

Will Manchester City Council makes public what the effects of cutting these services will be and how its proposed outreach service will mitigate these effects?

Having a consultation which leaves out the important aspects of a service so important to the long term health of the city is short sighted and unsafe.

The national concern of the effect the Sure Start cuts will have are especially applicable to Manchester.

Read Full Article >>