Monday 7 February 2011

Frank Field warns 'King Canute' Cameron that he must stop tide of SureStart cuts

David Cameron must urgently intervene to prevent SureStart being decimated by local spending cuts which would "scupper the life chances" of poor children and warns the prime minister's poverty adviser Frank Field MP in an interview with The Times (£), headlined 'Frank Field tells Cameron to 'grow up' on cuts and poor children'.

Field warns Cameron to "stop being King Canute" if he wants to avoid being "overwhelmed by the incoming tide of local authority cuts", in a way which would undermine the government's new child poverty strategy, due to be published in a month's time.

SureStart is central to the government's plan for a much stronger focus on heavy intervention for disadvantaged children before they are five.

But The Times reports that one in three of the 3578 SureStart centres have issued "risk of redundancy services", that more than two-thirds will cut services, and that "at least 250 Sure Start centres serving 60,000 families are certain to close or have been earmarked for closure by the end of this year".

In the interview, Field sets out his fear that local spending cuts will decimate SureStart unless government ministers step in:

Mr Field said that it was not good enough for the Government to say there was enough money in the budget to maintain the existing Sure Start centres.

“The Government needs urgently to step in,” he said. “At some stage they are going to have to grow up, stop being King Canute and realise if they don’t do something about Sure Start they are going to be overwhelmed by the incoming tide of local authority cuts. We are in a difficult phase. They are keeping to their localism commitment, but now there is evidence on just how dangerous localism can be. I see Sure Start as the biggest agent of change for addressing poverty and increasing social mobility in this country, but some local authorities are cutting it in half, even though the cut in their budget is 11 per cent

... We are now into February, and it seems to me people are whistling while Rome burns and they are going to be losing options unless they [intervene] quickly and say to local authorities ‘Please don’t slash and burn in this area.’”

King Canute was trying to show his courtiers that he could not control the tides. Field believes that Cameron could usefully intervene over some of the local spending cuts. But the Prime Minister is unlikely to act if he sees his spending cuts and deficit reduction plan as a force of nature too, rather than a policy choice over which he has some control.

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