The Education Select Committee, of which I am a member in parliament, is currently in the process of doing an inquiry into children’s centres.
So it came as no surprise when I saw that the local Labour run council had decided to ‘cluster’ children’s centres together to ensure a range of services are in effect spread across those centres.
This way they do not have to offer every service in every children’s centre and they perceive they are saving services.
The local Liberal Democrats on the other hand are doing their usual nit-picking with no feasible alternative apart from playing their usual petty games.
Whilst our inquiry on the select committee is far from over, the evidence would suggest that they are both wrong!
When the last Labour Government came up with their innovative idea (yes, I did say that!) their purpose was one of wrap-around support for the whole family including children.
Sadly, in practice that was not achieved and the cost became an inhibitor for so many of the services replicated in each one of the children’s centres.
It became unworkable and far too expensive. As a result, prior to 2010 we saw too many examples that were mediocre at best, and too few which were excellent.
Locally we have seen our local Labour leadership doing a ‘U Turn’ on their decision to close the child care element in the local Brighouse centre, but closing the others. The reality nationally is that only one in three children’s centres offer child care provision.
The Liberal Democrats locally are right to call in the decision of the local leadership because what we see lacking is a comprehensive strategy locally for children’s centres to ensure they are sustainable going forward with a full range of services.
The Labour Leadership seems to be lacking a strategy because if they had, they would not be going down the route of ‘clustering’.
All the evidence points to having fewer children’s centres with a full range of services in each centre and being offered to every family with children.
Personally I would even go as far as ensuring that ‘births’ are registered at children’s centres too.
This would ensure every family is seen and that centres do not get stuck with stigmas because of where they are located.
A bold move perhaps, but one that a real strategy that takes into account evidence would consider – and a decision which would take REAL political will and stomach. Sadly the local Labour and Liberal Democrats seem to have neither.