Families face the prospect of seeing more children’s centres close in their community after figures analysed by the Local Government Association showed councils have been forced to cut their spending on the service by nearly a quarter in four years.
Latest figures show that councils spent £480,513,000 on Sure Start children’s centres in 2017/18, which is almost 25 per cent less than the £637,265,000 spent in 2014/15.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is warning that the chronic underfunding of children’s services means children’s centres are facing a fight for survival, unless the Government acts in the Spending Review this year.
Research by the Sutton Trust last year found as many as 1,000 children’s centres may have closed since 2009.
The LGA says this is an example of councils having to cut or end early help services as a result of rising demand for support for children in care.
Councils in England are currently responsible for 75,420 looked-after children – the highest number since the 1980s.
While spending on children’s centres has fallen, councils have had to increase how much money is spent on children in care by almost a fifth. Councils spent nearly £4.3 billion providing vital care and support for looked after children in 2017/18, an 18 per cent increase since 2014/15.
The funding pressures are so great that nine in 10 councils are now overspending their children’s social care budgets, which includes funding for children’s centres.
The LGA warns it is “inevitable” councils will be forced to close more children’s centres unless children’s services, which face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025, are properly funded in this year’s Spending Review.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“Children’s centres can provide a lifeline for children, parents and carers, offering an incredibly important service in the local community.
“This could be anything from advice for parents on physical and mental health, caring for a new-born, or simply a place for children to enjoy free-play and interact with one another.
“While many councils have adapted well to the funding pressures and changed how they provide children’s centre services, there is a growing sense that councils have done all they can within ever tightening budgets.
“It is inevitable that without new investment from government in children’s services, councils will face the difficult but unavoidable decision of having to cut or close early help services such as children’s centres.
“This is why it is hugely important that the Government delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution for children’s services in this year’s Spending Review.”
#CouncilsCan: Spending Review 2019
With the right funding and powers, councils can continue to lead local areas, improve residents’ lives, reduce demand for public services and save money for the taxpayer. Securing the financial sustainability of local services must be the top priority for the Spending Review.