Councils could be forced to slash childrens’ centre funding as they struggle to cope with a predicted 27% cut in early intervention budgets, finance directors have warned.
The huge funding cut is revealed in papers prepared for the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, which was due to meet today. Cuts to councils’ budgets for early intervention “could well lead to a fall in the number of children’s centres being funded”, the briefing documents state.
The 27% cut relates to ‘non-ringfenced’ resources for early intervention- budgets which are earmarked for early intervention work but can be plundered to fund other cash-strapped services.
The papers also raise concerns about the plans to abolish its Early Intervention Grant and alter the way councils are funded for early intervention work. Such work includes Sure Start children’s centres, breaks for disabled children and teenage pregnancy initiatives.
The grant, worth £2.3bn in 2012-13, will from lose its title next year and have slices removed to fund a free nursery places scheme and a centrally-run early intervention project run by the Department for Education. The remainder of the funding, which will not be ringfenced, will be transferred to councils’ general budgets (see box for more details.)
Individual councils and the right-leaning think Centre for Social Justice are also raising concerns about the proposed changes, details of which have only emerged since the summer.
A briefing note by Leeds City Council, seen by LGC, warns that the council faced a £4.6m funding shortfall as a result of the changes. The leaders of Wolverhampton City Council, Merton LBC and North East Derbyshire DC have wrote to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles this months to oppose the planned changes.
CSJ’s managing director Christian Guy and chairman-in-residence Dr Samantha Callan, an adviser to David Cameron, have written to Eric Pickles, warning about the potential impact of the changes.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education claimed it was “increasing the overall amount spent nationally on early intervention. “The money has never been ringfenced, so local authorities have more freedom to spend it where it is needed.”
The LGA this week wrote to Michael Gove asking him to clarify what would happen to £150m that the department plans to retain in each of the next two years.
“As far as we can see there is no justification for the removal of a top-slice of £300m over the next two financial years,” LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell said. “The government has provided no explanation for this arbitrary reduction in the local government settlement as announced in the last spending review, nor has it offered any explanation for how the money will be used.
“Investing in early intervention has been shown to result in cost savings later on. Reducing councils’ flexibility to respond to local needs and target early years support makes no sense if we are to improve the life chances of children and young people.”
Changes to Early Intervention Grant
Ringfenced for new scheme to provide free nursery places for two-year-olds
£331m in 2013-14 and £380m in 2014-15
Proposed top slice for new, central initiative by Department for Education
£150m in 2013-14 and £150m 2014-15