Luton North MP hits out at government cuts to local Children’s Centres
Luton North’s Labour MP Sarah Owen pleaded with Ministers to listen to the concerns of local parents and provide the funding that Luton’s children’s centres need to remain open.
More than 500 people joined the Facebook group ‘Save Luton’s children’s centres’ earlier in the year in protest over planned cuts to children’s services.
These £3.5m in cuts to Children’s Services came after the government refused to keep its promise to “do whatever it takes” to get Luton through the pandemic, and local government cuts were forced on Luton Council by the government after coronavirus threw London Luton Airport - one of the council’s main sources of income - into crisis.
In a parliamentary debate yesterday afternoon (Thursday), Luton North’s MP Sarah Owen warned: “If the Government doesn’t act, we will see the devastating impact on families and young children in the community, who rely on these services.
"This is Pregnancy Club, antenatal education, Feeding classes, Breast Feeding Café, Baby Massage, Baby Talk, Stay and Play, Messy Play, Sing and Sign, Parenting Puzzle courses, Nurturing Programme courses, and the list goes on.”
Ms Owen praised a petition from earlier in the year which opposed these cuts handed down by the government, and was signed by nearly 2,000 local people, led by parents and campaigners.
Sarah Owen MP said: "Children’s Centres and services for parents and families are more important than ever, as we’ve seen through coronavirus and the lockdowns.
"These cuts will damage services targeted at babies and children at their most important developmental stages.”
“I’m desperately sad that this government continues to ignore the pleas of parents in Luton.
"The government has the power to give our council the money it needs to maintain these services that are so important to so many people.“
“They promised us that they would ‘do whatever it takes’ to get us and our services through coronavirus, but they have broken their promise.”
Vicky Ford MP, the Minister for Children, spoke at the Westminster Hall Debate on early years yesterday (Thursday), she said: "At the peak of the pandemic, early years settings did an amazing job remaining open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children.
"We have supported early years providers by continuing to pay local authorities for the free childcare places at pre-Covid levels since March, even if providers had to close due to the pandemic.
"The arrangements for the Spring term funding are really important, and I'm very sorry that we haven't been able to send out this position sooner, but I know that we must finalise it quickly, because it is after all, next term, and I can assure you that I'm pressing everyone very hard to do so.
"But, understandably, my colleagues at HMT have been very focused on the spending review and they have focused on so many issues in the spending review but I'm very pleased that during that review they also gave great focus to early years and the position was announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor.
"As I said earlier, early years settings will continue to benefit from a planned £3.6billion funding in this financial year.
"But for the next financial year, colleagues should understand that there will be a demographic change and as a result of falling birth rates in previous years, there will be fewer children in the next financial year in the early years age group."Therefore the total early years entitlement spend in 2021-22 may be less than in 2020-21.
"However, in the 2021-22 year the chancellor has announced a further £44million which means that local authorities will be able to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers for the government's free childcare offers and this will pay for a rate increase that is higher than the cost nurseries may face from the uplift to the national living wage in April.
"The government's commitment to the long-term funding for maintained nursery schools is unchanged and we continue to consider what is required to ensure a clear, long-term picture for all maintained nursery schools.
"I note the request from the member for Luton North for a member about children's services, you only need to write to me to get a meeting.
"I note the member for Luton South who I have written to about maintained nursery schools, so I'm sure she will have been pleased about the extra money.
"DFE is supporting Luton with a specialist advisor at this time and I will happily facilitate a meeting to update them."