Labour’s Fresh Start for Sure Start

“Trisham Hunt has unveiled a fresh start for Sure Start”                                                                                                         – Michael Pavey, Director of Labour Friends of Sure Start

Labour has announced new plans to restore the duty of local authorities to provide childcare in Sure Start Centres and has committed that these places will be provided by “charities and local providers.” Independent analysis has suggested that this could double the number of childcare places available in Sure Start Centres.

LFoSS warmly welcomes these proposals and notes that they are very much in keeping with our Sure Start Policy Framework.

We stated that: “A clear vision is needed to reinvigorate Sure Start after the Coalition Govt’s brutal assault.”

Tristram Hunt has unquestionably provided this:

“If the Tories win a second term, I fear Sure Start will disappear in many parts of our country and one of the great progressive programmes will be lost to the next generation … Labour created Sure Start, Labour cares about Sure Start. Labour will save Sure Start … We’re going to put the lights back on, get the kids back in and restore the founding purpose of Sure Start.”

This will be a significant challenge, but Hunt’s childcare plan is a very astute step.

TShadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunthe Tory-led Government has hollowed out Sure Start. Hundreds of Centres, though theoretically still open, are just empty shells. Meanwhile demand for childcare booms exponentially. Using this surplus capacity in Sure Start Centres for childcare reinvigorates the purpose of Centres – preventing additional closures – while boosting childcare capacity which will help to bring down costs.

LFoSS also welcomes the plan for this capacity to be delivered by “charities and local providers.”

Our Policy Framework states that: “One size does not fit all and local innovation is vital. The role of Central Govt is to provide guiding principles and some obligations around which to meet local priorities.” And furthermore, “Sure Start Centres are an ideal venue for co-located public services such as health and employment partners and local authorities will be expected to take a lead in facilitating this.”

Whilst these plans are extremely welcome, Sure Start is about far more than just childcare. LFoSS keenly looks forward to further information on Labour’s plans for Sure Start’s family support function.

Sure Start exists to nurture and support families. Centres must provide a universal offer for all families, but must also be at the heart of a shift from crisis intervention to early intervention, providing robust interventions and outreach for the most disadvantaged families.

But Tristram Hunt’s comments are by far Labour’s most significant announcement on Sure Start since 2010. The response by the Conservatives has been equally telling. By denouncing the original Sure Start programme as “unviable” the Tories have effectively endorsed the 720 closures seen since 2010.

And so Sure Start becomes yet another front in a General Election campaign between a Labour Party with a balanced, sensible and progressive policy – and a Tory Party defending brutal cuts on the grounds of sheer ideological dogma.

Sure Start faces a Fresh Start under Labour, or a Sure End under the Tories.

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