Labour’s u-turn on children’s centres

Among the many false claims made by the Labour MP for Hammersmith was that the Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham council was going to close nine of the 15 children’s centres. He specifically said they would close in July 2011. There would just be the “shell of a building”.

In fact the number increased from 15 to 16. The number of sessions at them has doubled. They have more visitors than before. At the same time there has been greater specialisation for those with complex needs. To say that nothing is taking place – that nine of these centres is “just a shell of a building” is not only dishonest but insulting to the fantastic work that goes on there.

Labour’s council election manifesto was more mildly insulting talking about “their aim of re-establishing an effective Sure Start service” implying that the service being provided was ineffective. The reference to “re-establishing” was also odd – implying that earlier provision was the model to aim for even though there were fewer visitors and less specialist help.

Anyway Mr Slaughter’s claim that nine children’s centres closed is not shared by the Labour councillors who now run the council.

A Cabinet Report approved by Labour this week says:

“Contracts to operate Hammersmith and Fulham’s 16 children’s centre sites are due to expire on the 31 March 2015 and do not contain any provisions allowing for contract extensions. Given the financial value of these services, the Council’s Standing Orders (CSOs) would normally require a competition to be run to determine the award of new contracts.

Due to the recent change in administration, the future shape of the services, including any strategic role the new administration sees the service playing in the delivery of key objectives and priorities, is not yet fully defined. To undertake a full scale procurement exercise at this time would therefore not be sensible.

In these circumstances, it is important that the new administration has sufficient time to consider its options for the future service
based on an informed, evidenced and costed options paper. These options could include a review of the use of existing sites, staffing structure and delivery models.

The most pragmatic solution, both to supporting this process of policy development and maintaining continuity of a statutory service with minimum disruption to service users, is to further extend the existing arrangements for a period of up 12 months, by which time future direction and priorities will be clear.”

I am pleased the arrangements are being extended for another year. However there will be considerable uncertainty as to what will follow. If there will be genuine improvements then, of course, that will be welcome.

Still at least Labour now seem to accept that the 16 children’s centres – they are listed here – are not figments of the imagination.

No doubt Mr Slaughter will be anxious to apologise for his misleading claim.

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