Early Years services and the Budget proposal 2016+

The key fact is that the Labour Council is proposing that yet more money is taken away from the total amount being spent on services for the under 5’s in the city. This follows five previous years of cuts to funding to Early Year services.

The only hard information contained in the Budget consultation is that an additional £5.1m will be taken out of the total budget to services for the under 5’s for the three financial years from 2017-16 the current total spend is £74.478m. The Council says:

The savings shown on this factsheet are the increases in savings which have been built into previous consultations. These savings will be achieved through a review of services pending the wider review. (1)

There is no direct explanation within the Budget 2016+ consultation documents of how these further cuts to the Early Years Budgets are to be made. If you are the parent of a child who uses a local Children’s Centre or other child care supported by the Council’s Early Years Budget there is very little here to explain what this might mean for you and your family.

These are savings are on top of savings! These new cuts will be identified by a further review on top of an existing review of Early Years services. You are in turn referred onto a consultation on the principles for rationalising the Children’s Centres and other child care services.

The key fact is that the Labour Council is proposing that yet more money is taken away from the total amount being spent on services for the under 5’s in the city. This follows five previous years of cuts to funding to Early Year services.

What are the Early Years services?

The Early years budget funds a wide range of services including Children’s Centres, the provision of subsidies for child care provided by Private and Voluntary organisations, support services for families and the planning and development of different types of child care for children in the city.

There are currently 60 Children’s Centres in the city provided by a range of organisations including the Council. Almost three quarters of all under-fives in the city are currently registered with a Children’s Centre.  A large number of childcare placements are provided by Private and Voluntary sector providers which are supported in different ways by the Council. The Council also runs a central team to ensure that it meets its legal responsibilities for ensuring the quality and quantity of child care in the city.

Public health monies which fund the Health visiting service have passed from the NHS to local Councils this year.

Background to the proposals

There have already been significant reductions in the Early Years funding in Birmingham in recent years. Research published by the National Children’s Bureau found that there had been a 42% cut in Birmingham’s funding of Children’s Centres and other non-education early years services. In 2010-11 £43.3m was spent but this had fallen to £25m in 2014-15. (2)  These cuts have included reductions in child care placements for vulnerable children provided by the Council-run Day Nurseries in 2011.

Birmingham’s children’s services have been subject to intense Government scrutiny due to failings in safeguarding children in the city. The Le Grand Review commissioned by the Government showed that children’s services in the city had been significantly underfunded. The Government’s solution to a complex set of problems has been to push the Council to reduce its role as a provider and to commission more services from other organisations. Early Years services have been included in the Council’s commissioning strategy for 2015-17. The Council has undertaken a major review of all Early Years services in the city to draw up proposals as to how they should be organised and commissioned in the future.

How are Early Years cuts to be made?

At its simplest the Early Years Review, finalised in June 2015 (3) proposes to significantly reduce management and administrative costs of Early Years services while simultaneously seeking to improve the quality of services and the outcomes for individual children and targeting those children who it is considered would benefit most from services.

An unsourced and unsubstantiated estimate quoted in the Early Years Review regarding the Children’s Centres is that only “35% of funds are available for direct service delivery.” (p37).  The Review’s analysis suggests that Children’s Centres have developed in an ad hoc way over time with a range of local arrangements and a multitude of providers.

A key strand of the Review’s proposals is the rationalisation of Children’s Centres and a move to new simplified commissioning arrangements based on providers tendering across ten districts of the city.  The Review also raises the possibility of the Council ceasing to be a direct provider of Early Years services.

The Health Visiting Service will also be re-commissioned alongside the new Children’s Centre provision.

In consolidating its commissioning role the Council would shrink its responsibilities and the role of the development support to child care currently provided by the Council could be spun off to other providers.

What these cuts might mean

The Early Years Review is being presented as a work in progress but areas for cuts and savings have already been clearly identified. The Council say it is currently consulting the public on the principles for the future delivery of its Early Years services. But these principles are predicated upon reducing resources and major changes in the way services are to be provided. In the present context of cuts this is a disingenuous approach by the Council. Parents have the right to know the whole package of the proposals.

a) Comparing like with like

The Council need to detail their proposed cuts/savings within the Early Years budget. Reading the Review there are numerous proposals for cuts and reductions e.g. child care subsidy to Children’s Centres and stricter eligibility criteria for full time nursery place. This is a complex service area and the cuts should be broken down into their component parts, costed and their impacts clearly explained.

Further the costs of the new ‘area model’ should be provided as a point of comparison. There will be new costs for the Council related to tendering, contracting and the ongoing contract management with up to 10 providers.

b) Restricting access to Children’s Centre provision 

Although framed in regard to the reduction in the management costs and increasing value for money of Children’s Centres the Service Review identifies that moving to the ‘area model’ will involve direct reductions in the level of service available to families. Existing Children’s Centres will close.

‘There would, in effect, be ten Children’s centres (as opposed to the present 60 centres) but each of the ten centres would be made up of a ‘cluster’ of providers and venues.’

 ‘…the proposal seeks to protect, as far is possible within budget constraints, convenient local access to services.’ (p42. Our emphasis)

But the service review accepts that ‘there is likely to be a reduction in the number of ‘one-stop-shop’ facilities.’

c) Declining quality of child care

In the complex mixed economy of child care originally set up by the previous New Labour government local Councils were set the responsibility of raising and ensuring the quality of child care across a wide field of local providers. The Government has recently removed the Council’s duty to ensure a sufficient supply of child care. The Council’s role in ensuring the quality of child care is likely to be further undermined by the review proposals.

d) Handing Early Years services over to the market

Although not as yet decided, the Review raises the possibility of the Council ceasing to be a provider of Children’s Centres. This is being driven directly by the intervention of the Tory Government to break up local Council children’s services. The Review even brings into question whether there will be sufficient and adequate providers to run this proposed recommissioned service.

Many of the longstanding problems of the overall quality of child care stem from the mixed economy of care and the role of the market in providing child care. There should be a greater role for public provision to drive up the quality of child care combined with an expansion of investment in services for the under fives.

Conclusion

The total amount of money available for the child care of Birmingham’s youngest children is being further cut – and remember that a third of Birmingham’s children live within deprived households.

The Early Years proposals threaten the overall quality of child care as well as setting out direct reductions in the level of provision available from Children’s Centres to promote the development of children.

The Council’s Budget consultation on Early Years services and the parallel Early Years Health and Wellbeing Services Consultation represent the most cynical form of salami-slicing political management.

Cllr Clancy should move forward with setting out a ‘needs budget’ which would identify the future needs of Birmingham’s under-fives.

References

  1. BCC Council Business Plan and Budget 2016+ Consultation factsheets: Preventing family breakdown. http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/brumbudget16
  2. National Children’s Bureau (2015) Cuts that cost: trends in funding for early intervention services.
  3. The BCC Review of Early Years, Children’s Centres and Family Support Services (Appendix Two ‐ OUTLINE BUSINESS CASE) is available at: https://birmingham.cmis.uk.com/Birmingham/Document.ashx?czJKcaeAi5tUFL1DTL2UE4zNRBcoShgo=u1rI8BvGM5x2i5UUTMoF%2BcVV2GJigIz%2F6Gi5J4sgl1quowzim4h0tA%3D%3D&rUzwRPf%2BZ3zd4E7Ikn8Lyw%3D%3D=pwRE6AGJFLDNlh225F5QMaQWCtPHwdhUfCZ%2FLUQzgA2uL5jNRG4jdQ%3D%3D&mCTIbCu . Early Years Health and Wellbeing Services Consultation Now Open till 28 February: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/earlyyearsreview

 

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