The number of children’s centres closing nearly doubled in 2015, official figures reveal.
Closures have increased every year since 2011. Twelve centres shut down that year, 27 followed in 2012 and 33 closed in 2013. The following year, this number jumped to 85 and last year 156 centres closed their doors permanently.
The centres were designed to support disadvantaged families with such matters as childcare and early education. These ‘Sure Start’ centres were introduced in 1998 under the Labour government by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.
Labour MP Dan Jarvis obtained the closure figures following a written request to Junior Education Minister Caroline Dinenage. Jarvis called the centres “a proven success” and said the fact that so many are closing was “deeply concerning”.
The MP for Barnsley Central added that the closures demonstrate “how wrong the Conservatives’ priorities are” because “every Sure Start centre that is lost closes a door on a child’s chance to get on in life”.
“With child poverty set to rise by 50 per cent over this parliament, thousands of families will be affected by these closures. We will all pay for this failure in years to come.”
However, a spokesperson for the Department for Education insisted that the closures did not represent a problem because “councils are merging centres to allow services to be delivered more efficiently”. She added that before a children’s centre can be closed, the local authority must “demonstrate that the outcomes for children would not be adversely affected”.
Neil Leitch is the Chief Executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance. He said the dramatic increase in the number of closures “when there is so much government rhetoric on … improving children’s life chances, seems completely contradictory”. To make matters worse, he continued, many of the centres which remain open “are unable to offer much more than a skeleton service due to lack of adequate funding”.
Earlier this year, Children & Young People Now reported that as many as 400 children’s centres faced the prospect of closure.