Remember July? Sunshine. Summer holidays approaching. And a surprisingly encouraging comment from Tory Childcare Minister, Sam Gyimah:
“There is one particular issue that is a priority for me – the future of Children’s Centres.”
Really, Minister? Us too!
“That’s why I’m delighted to announce that we will be launching an open consultation this Autumn about Children’s Centres.”
Excellent! A genuinely good idea.
Sure Start is under tremendous pressure and we need to talk about how to maintain its great work.
“This will be a full and open consultation and I want to hear the views of everyone who accesses, works in or oversees Children’s Centres … The most important thing to stress is that nothing is off the table. If you have a thought on the future of Children’s Centres I want to hear from you.”
This just gets better and better.
We urgently need a public debate on the future of Sure Start. An open consultation would be ideal.
We need to reach out to the young families who depend upon Sure Start and to ask them their priorities for its future.
We need to listen to Sure Start professionals about which interventions they find to be the most effective.
We need to ask Councils which have been managing Sure Start cuts for years how to maximise the value of every pound.
So what has happened to this consultation?
It has vanished.
We have phoned the DfE, questions have been asked in Parliament and I’ve light-heartedly mocked the Government in this article.
But still nothing.
We were promised a consultation in Autumn.
The clocks have gone back, the Christmas lights are up and the temperature drops below zero at nighttime. It’s not Autumn anymore!
Not only has there not been a sniff of this consultation – there hasn’t even been a sniff of an announcement explaining the delay!
LFoSS was ready to embrace this consultation in good faith. But it now looks like the Government are trying to sweep it under the carpet: to rush through a token consultation over the Christmas period.
At best the consultation is looking like a wasted opportunity. At worst it is increasingly looking like cynical window-dressing for a Government which has already made up its mind to run down Sure Start.
We fear that they will sneak the consultation out over Christmas – then claim that the poor response shows public ambivalence over Sure Start. Swingeing cuts will inevitably follow.
So here’s a direct message to the Minister: if we are wrong, come out and tell us.
Come out and tell us why there has been such a long delay to this consultation. And most important of all, tell us when the consultation will finally open.
Frankly we at LFoSS don’t care when the consultation happens: hold it on Christmas Day and we’ll turn up in our Santa hats. Hold it on Boxing Day and we’ll turn up with mince pies.
No matter when you finally consult, we’ll be there.
But we think that everyone with a passion for Sure Start should be there too.
Come on Minister, you promised us a “full and open consultation.” Time’s up.
If Children’s Centres really are such a priority for you, stop hiding and throw open the consultation.