Backlash forces rethink over £2m child care cuts

A BACKLASH against plans to cut £2m from Sheffield children’s centres and nurseries has forced councillors to rethink their strategy.

Thirty child care providers received letters this week informing them that grants would be phased out from October – forcing some either to increase their charges or cut their opening hours to survive. But the proposals were unanimously rejected at a packed meeting at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium on Tuesday.

“This proposal would decimate the high quality local services that have been developed over decades and leave swathes of the city with no childcare services at all,” said the Community Childcare Forum, which represents seven neighbourhood-run nurseries in some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas.

Spokesperson Chrissie Maleady said: “The attack on community nurseries is ideology masquerading as necessity. We ask that the council looks again at where savings can be made as this will have a less drastic impact on the most vulnerable families and the most disadvantaged communities.”

Council leaders say that cutbacks are inevitable following cuts in Government funding but they have agreed to look again at the plans.

“We’re prepared to come back to them with alternative proposals for the way we do things,” said Coun Colin Ross, cabinet member for children’s services.

“We’re not going to be able to magic extra money without taking it from elsewhere in the children and young people’s budget but we’re looking to see if we can remodel this in a way that might be more palatable.”

The funding issue has arisen following introduction of the Government’s new Early Intervention Grant, which replaces Surestart and also covers support such as intervention, prevention and youth services. It is directed by an independent Multi-Agency Support Team and targets the needs of each individual family. But the money follows the child, not a care provider.

The local authority currently subsidises city childcare providers in grants totalling £2m – the average is around £70,000. Under the new funding model some will receive EIG funding but others may not.

City councillors are aiming to soften the blow by phasing in the new system gradually from October.

They hope providers may also take advantage of changes which mean there is no longer a requirement to provide full day care in the most deprived areas and that disadvantaged two-year-olds will now qualify for 15 hours of free education each week.

Parent David Campbell, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said: “We find it an absolute disgrace that such a rushed proposal should have been fielded against the families who use community services.”

Elaine Bennett, chair of Tinsley Parents and Children’s Consortium, said: “We are appalled at the decision to make drastic cuts to frontline services without any consultation or apparent consideration of alternatives. We see vulnerable and disadvantaged families every day and carry out vital preventative work. This service would be lost and additional burden placed on the system if these cuts are actioned.

“Our service is very well used and our parents already pay market rate for the service they receive. A major issue is that we have to pay £100,000 per year to the local authority to be in this building. Parents on low incomes would have to pay astronomical fees to cover this cost.”

Coun Ross said: “We have less money than previously, so we need to be certain we are spending this is the right area.”