Newcastle’s MP slams ‘cynical County’ over Early Years cuts

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10 Sep 2014

Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly has branded Staffordshire’s plans to shut 44 of its children’s centres as ‘shockingly cynical’ and its record of support for youngsters in need as an ‘extraordinary catalogue of failure’.

The MP’s attack came after the Conservative-controlled County Council said it was starting an eight week consultation over the proposals, which will see it pull out of running all but ten of Staffordshire’s Sure Start and Early Years centres for children under five.

That includes all six in Mr Farrelly’s Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency, including the purpose-built Sure Start centre in Knutton.

Of the other five, three – at Hempstalls in Cross Heath, Crackley in Chesterton and Oaklands in Porthill – are due to be handed over to local schools, with no mention of extra funding.

And, in a picture repeated across the County, two more – in Audley and Clayton – will stop sessions in the local libraries, which are themselves currently under threat from cuts.

Speaking today, Mr Farrelly urged the County to be honest, finally, about the reasons for the cuts: ‘This is a familiar scorched earth policy from the Tories at the County, which has already hit libraries, youth clubs, people with learning disabilities and special needs,’ he said.

‘It also follows the same pattern: budget cuts already decided, followed by a sham consultation which rubber-stamps decisions that have already been taken.’

‘The real reason for these changes is that they want to save £1.5m this year, rising to £3m in 2015/16, from the Early Years budget and are pulling out of buildings all over the County.’

‘These cuts keep coming under bogus names, too, implying the aim is improvement, but with no detail as to how. These cuts, to children in the most need, they are calling ‘the Best Start in Life’. Yet again, it is shockingly cynical and dishonest.’

‘They say that they are sometimes only reaching less than a third of under-fives in the most deprived areas. If that is true, it is an extraordinary catalogue of failure, as the Conservatives have been running the County now for the past five years.’

‘They, and everyone else agrees, that early intervention at under the age of five improves the life chances of children from less advantaged families, yet in Newcastle and across the County they are now cutting the centres in the areas of greatest need.’

Newcastle’s MP said he would now be contacting all the centres and schools for their reaction. He would also be demanding details of replacement services promised, which the County has not specified, along with figures about usage of the centres and all the costs involved, which again the County left out of its announcement yesterday.

As an example of how the County’s words do not match its actions, Mr Farrelly pointed out that until a few years ago there were expert workers who helped schools to get difficult children to attend by getting involved at the sharp end, helping families at home.

The help and intervention was highly valued by schools, but the posts were cut by the County for financial reasons - never mind the social cost, and impact on the children’s lives, as well as the extra money needed to sort out ongoing problems down the line.