One of the truly innovative policies of the last Labour government was the introduction of Sure Start children’s centres.
Their aim was to give children the best possible start in life through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support.
What was really unusual about Sure Start was that, in a political age often dominated by short term decision making, here was something that would take years, if not decades to properly bear fruit.
At the 2010 General Election there was a great deal of concern about whether children’s centres would survive the Conservatives’ planned austerity programme. I remember Ben Gummer and Tory activists “ambushing” Harriet Harman on a visit to Ipswich with placards reading: “Sure Start Safe With The Conservatives”.
Sadly, the concerns were correct and those placards were well short of the mark.
Five years ago, Conservative-run Suffolk County Council closed nine centres, including Meredith and Quayside in Ipswich.
Now, they are looking to close even more. In a “review” published earlier this year – conveniently delayed until after the General Election – over half of Suffolk’s remaining children’s centres are now facing cuts of some description. Eleven will see their hours slashed and a further eleven will be shut completely.
In Ipswich, Hawthorn, Hillside and Wooden House will be reduced to part time hours and Highfield and Chatterbox will be closed for good.
As a council leader who has spent all my time in office having to mitigate the cuts handed down from the Conservative government, I do have some sympathy for the County Council as they face similar challenges.
But there are always choices to be made about where these cuts should land and, all too often, it seems that Suffolk’s young families are being chosen to pay the price. School transport, health visitors and speech and language units have all recently been targeted too.
In a financially challenging climate, all councils are having to make difficult decisions, but should Suffolk County Council’s cuts fall so regularly on those who need the most support?
If you are concerned about the future of Suffolk’s children’s centres there is an online petition at: www.change.org/Save-Suffolks-Childrens-Centres