The following text is from a Parliamentary Question answered by Lord Hill:
Over the last few weeks the Department has been working with local authorities to establish the number of Sure Start children’s centres in each of their areas.
That work is now complete. Local authorities have confirmed that on 8 September 2011 there were 3507 children’s centres across the country. The Department published a statistical release in June 2010 that showed there were 3,631 children’s centres in April 2010. Local authorities have informed the Department that the net reduction of 124 children’s centres since April 2010 includes 6 closures with the remainder of the reduction being accounted for by local reorganisations such as the merger of two or more centres. This includes cases such as when a local authority has merged the management teams of previously separate centres but kept their premises open on separate sites. A breakdown of this information is attached. This information is a snapshot of the position on 8 September only. Numbers will continue to change as local authorities make decisions about how to configure services to make best use of available resources and fulfil their duties to children and families. For example, this month Hillingdon opened a new children’s centre.
Local authorities have a duty under the Childcare Act 2006 to ensure that there are sufficient children’s centres to meet local need and must consult before making any significant changes including closing any centre.
The Government is committed to Sure Start and has provided enough funding in the Early Intervention Grant to maintain a network of children’s centres across the country. Children’s centres provide important support to children and families, particularly the most vulnerable. They are part of a coherent framework of foundation years services the Government is putting in place for families from pregnancy through to age five which includes the expansion of the Health Visiting service, a new free entitlement to 15 hours early education for disadvantaged two year olds and reforms to the free entitlement for 3- and 4-year-olds by 2013.
Local authorities are asked to complete a database maintained by the Department called Sure Start On. Information from this database is made available to parents on the Directgov website. The Directgov website contains the name, address and contact details for every children’s centre in the country and can be viewed either by distance from a specific post code or address, or by local authority. On 18 July 2011 the Minister for Children and Families wrote to all local authorities reminding them of the importance of keeping this database up to date.
It is for local authorities to determine the most effective arrangements in their areas. The Department’s discussions over recent weeks have revealed that many are making sensible changes in order to ensure greater efficiency through reorganisations including mergers of two or more centres and the clustering of several centres under one management team. For example, in Greenwich the local authority has adopted a model of federations for its children’s centres and has 17 lead centres with 11 managers. In Cheshire East the local authority has merged six centres as part of a general restructure of early intervention services. In Lambeth Clapham Manor and Triangle children’s centres have recently merged and now have one manager overseeing and co-ordinating services across two sites. This means that families have access to a wide range of activities across the two centres. In Cornwall, following consultation, the Council reorganised its children’s centres provision, from 1 September 2011, by federating 40 children’s centres to 18 lead centres. This has not led to the closure of any children’s centre buildings which have been retained as service access points.
It is the outcomes that these services achieve, particularly for the most vulnerable, which are most important. The Government has emphasised this through the new core purpose of children’s centres and are developing arrangements to pay centres and local authorities by the results they achieve.