Local authorities around the country face huge repayments if they close or sell buildings used as children’s centres.
Tony Blair’s Labour government provided at least £540 million between 1999 and 2002 to fund the creation of ‘Sure Start’ children’s centres in different regions. However, the money came with strings attached: under a so-called ‘clawback’ contract, the local authorities in question risk a demand for repayment of the funding by the Department for Education (DfE) if they “dispose of or change the use of buildings or assets funded wholly or partly through Sure Start capital grants”.
This obligation continues for a full 25 years. The authorities must information the DfE of any planned changes or cuts to their ‘early years’ services aimed at children under five, and if these result in provision falling below a certain level they may be asked to repay the original grant.
According to Children & Young People Now, a number of authorities who had been planning to slash children’s services in next year’s budget have now realised they are at risk of repayment demands if they proceed and consequently exploring alternatives, such as keeping open some facilities earmarked for closure. These include Luton Borough Council and Derby City Council.