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Mrs. May: If the Secretary of State had been listening about 30 seconds ago, she would have heard me say that we have always supported Sure Start. What we have said is that we would do certain aspects of it differently. If we are to continue to support Sure Start, everybody in the House must know whether it is doing the job that it is intended to do, and whether it is making a difference.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The right hon. Lady might not be aware that in my constituency the Bridgehall and Adswood project has received national accreditation because of the vast improvement that it has made in children's language skills at an early age, which has enabled them to go on and take advantage of nursery education. It is therefore simply not true to say that there is no empirical evidence.
The hon. Lady makes a valuable point about her experience in her constituency. She might be aware, however, as I am sure that the Secretary of State is, that a research report by Birkbeck college has examined the effectiveness of the Sure Start scheme. That report has not been published, despite the fact that it was due to be published in September. When the Minister winds up the debate, perhaps she can tell the House why the publication of that report was delayed,
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and when it is going to be available. Newspaper reports have suggested that far from Sure Start having the impact on children's development that the Government intended, the report's findings were that it had had no discernible effect on the children that it was supposed to be helping. We have supported Sure Start, even though we would want to make changes to it, but if the Minister wants that support to continue, she must publish the evidence and let us judge for ourselves. I hope that she will provide a date for the publication of that report when she speaks later. If we are to invest a large amount of taxpayer's money in helping parents with child care, we must ensure that that provides value for money.
Edward Miliband: There is little surprise that concern has been expressed about the Opposition's view on Sure Start, because I looked through their manifesto before this debatethe education section, as I understand it, was written by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)and it contains no mention of Sure Start. Can the right hon. Lady explain that?
Mrs. May: The hon. Gentleman should pay more attention not only to my speeches and those of other Conservative Members but to other publications that we produced prior to the election, in which we made clear
Mrs. May: I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful sedentary intervention. We set out our views in a number of manifestos, and said consistently that we supported Sure Start. Perhaps by the end of the debate the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) would like to quote the manifesto in which we made it absolutely clear that we were supporting Sure Start, and significantly, that we would guarantee the funding for Sure Start, as well as supporting the concept of it.
The issue of providing value for money, about which I was speaking earlier, brings me to my second concern, which is the implication of the duty being placed on local authorities to ensure adequate provision of child care. Several of my hon. Friends have referred to that, and they have had a mixed bag of responses from the Secretary of State, who on the one hand appeared to say that there were no unfunded provisions in the Bill, and on the other, that there were provisions in the Bill, but it did not matter because they were funded. That is not the view of local authorities looking ahead to the implications of the Bill, because it places a duty on them to secure as far as is reasonably practicable child care that meets the requirements of parents who want to work or undertake training.
The Secretary of State said, and I agree, that the Bill confirms the vital role that local authorities will play as strategic leaders. We know the skills that local authorities have in delivering cost-effective services, meeting the needs of local people. Yet once again we see in the Bill the Government giving local authorities another job to do without giving them the resources to do it. Time after time we have seen this ploy by Ministers and we are now seeing a repeat performance.
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As a result of the Bill, local authorities will be left literally holding the baby. Simply shifting the problem to local authorities without providing additional money will do little to solve the problem. It may lead to yet higher council tax bills for many people, because councils do not have a magic wand to wave and create more child care places. I say to the Secretary of State that if she genuinely believes that there are no funding requirements for local authorities in this Bill, she is living in cloud cuckoo land.
The Secretary of State does not need to look at me for evidence. The Local Government Association spokesman on children's services, Councillor Alison King, has said that without substantial extra government investment, it is hard to see how the Bill will increase the amount of affordable child care for low-income families. She said also that to be on track to meet the Government's ambitions means investing £200 million in the next two years, over and above existing resources. Perhaps the Minister who winds up will tell us where the money will come from.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My right hon. Friend has identified one example in which what the Government said does not appear to match that for which the Bill provides. It is clear from clauses 12 and 13 that there will be an obligation to provide advice and assistance to parents and, in certain circumstances, to provide training to child care providers. Given that none of those is currently a duty under statute, it logically follows that all are new. Why is it that the Secretary of State is right and the head of the early years development partnership in Buckinghamshire is somehow wrong?
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend has subjected the Bill to his characteristically rigorous assessment and he is absolutely right. But it is not only those particular clauses that set out clearly new requirements that would cost local authorities. Other parts of the Bill make it clear that if the provision of child care is not suitable, local authorities will have to provide it, so there will be significant costs for them.
Mrs. May: Indeed, and those costs are ongoing because the assessment must carry on; it is not a one-off effort by the local authority. That is why I said that I found it amazing that the Secretary of State felt able to stand up today and say that there were no new unfunded requirements on local authorities.
With the debate on private sector provision and local authority budgets, it is easy to forget the real reason why we are discussing the Bill today. We are all concerned with ensuring, as Government slogan-writers put it, the best start for all children. That brings me to my final and perhaps most important concern about the impact that the Bill will have on our children.
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We all know that, as part of the Bill, the Government are establishing for the first time a national curriculum for children from birth until the age of five. This causes concern for many on this side of the House. We have had the foundation stage national curriculum in place for some time now, but I have been warning that the Government were intent on pushing a more formal educational approach further and further down the age range. At one stage, the DFES had even coined the phrase "educare." Whatever it is callednational curriculum or educareit is clear that Ministers want to see children in the classroom at an ever-younger age.
Childminders and nurseries will be under a legal obligation to teach the early years foundation stage curriculum to children from birth until three years of age. Ofsted inspectors will then check that children are developing according to the Government programme. For the first time, we are seeing the Government's involvement in the lives of our children moved from the classroom into the maternity room. As the Minister for Children and Families has said:
I think that a potentially insidious part of the Bill is the idea that the Government should and would decide how any individual child should develop month by month and use legislation to determine the outcome of children's development. Therein lies the problem. It is impossible for a Government official or a Minister to establish a framework for the development of babies[Interruption.]
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