5 Local and central Government: funding,
commissioning and strategic planning |
107. Funding streams for early childhood
and family services are varied and confusing. In April 2011 the
Government removed the ring-fence from Sure Start funding and
introduced the Early Intervention Grant (EIG), with the result
that it is not possible to put a figure on central government
funding for Sure Start from 2011/12 onwards. From April 2013
EIG was transferred to the Department for Communities and Local
Government to include in its Business Rates Retention scheme.
Funding for the two year old offer was initially included in the
EIG but has been transferred to the Dedicated Schools Grant. The
EIG, excluding the two year old offer, is decreasing, meaning
that there is less money available to spend on children's centres.
Information provided by the LGA, based on DfE returns, shows a
total planned expenditure by local authorities on Sure Start and
children's centres of £1.0 bn in 2011/12, falling to £0.95bn
in 2012/13: a decrease of 4.6%.
Policy Exchange estimates that in 2013/14, spending on children's
centres will fall to around £0.854bn, a total reduction of
28% from 2010.
Prospects for local government funding to 2015 suggest that further
significant reductions should be expected.
108. Unsurprisingly, these reductions
in funding have resulted in reductions in the services provided
by children's centres. The ECCE Strand 3 report found that 72%
of centres had experienced changes in services due to cuts and
80% expected changes in 2012/13.
Several submissions expressed concern about the impact of uncertainty
around funding and further reductions. 4Children reported that
"our census shows that centres are being asked to deliver
more for less, and are, in many cases, succeeding." It noted
that the "local picture of budget decisions remains highly
mixed with some local authorities taking greater steps to protect
budgets" but warned that "there will be limits as to
what can be done without significant ongoing investment".
109. 4Children and Action for Children
both called for a clearly identifiable funding stream for early
intervention. 4Children warned that without this, "local
authorities will not prioritise or maintain funding for vital
children's services, and [...] the money which has previously
allowed Sure Start centres to deliver for their communities will
be spread across the local authority."
Action for Children also called for a re-enforced duty on local
authorities to ensure the continued delivery of early intervention
demands for the re-introduction of ring-fencing for funding for
children's centres were opposed by local authority witnesses who
argued that in the past children's centres "were awash with
money" and that under the current arrangements more can be
spent on early intervention.
The Minister supported the local authority view, saying that
"We need to see children's centres as part of an overall
offering in the local area".
110. Professor Eileen Munro's review
of the child protection system emphasised the importance of early
help. An NAO landscape
report in January 2013 found that "the Government has signalled
its commitment to the principle of early action, but there is
little evidence of a concerted shift in resources to early action
projects, or cross-government co-ordination, either in consistent
definition and measurement or in establishing adequate support
The study also found that "some local authorities seem more
determined to use a longer-term approach, but central and local
government need to do more to incentivise practitioners to exploit
early action potential."
The APPG on Sure Start recommended in July 2013 that the Government
commit to shifting 2-3% of spending from late intervention to
early intervention each year in the 2016-18 Comprehensive Spending
111. We believe that it was right
to remove the ring-fencing from funding for children's centres
because of the different ways in which the centres are used by
local authorities and the different services provided by them.
In principle, we would welcome the end of ring-fencing for early
intervention as a whole to give freedom to local authorities to
respond flexibly to needs in their area if the accountability
framework were effective enough to ensure that funding decisions
led to improved outcomes for children. Given the current accountability
framework, we do not believe that the ring-fence around early
intervention spending should now be removed. There should, however,
be more transparency on Early Intervention Grant spending by local
authorities so that it is clear how much has been spent on different
services. We recommend that the Government ensure that this is
112. Research evidence shows clearly
that investment in early intervention reaps rewards.
It is the most effective way in which the gap between the most
disadvantaged children and their peers can be addressed. Reductions
in spending on early interventions therefore risks being counter-productive,
requiring more money to be spent later on.
113. Local authorities commission children's
centres to deliver specific outcomes based on need, jointly assessed
with health and other partners. The Health and Social Care Act
2012 shifted responsibility for public health to local authorities,
potentially providing for a closer link with social care and children's
services. From April 2013, Health and Wellbeing Boards under local
authorities have a duty to set the strategic direction for health
and social care commissioning for a local community through Joint
Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs) and Joint Health and Wellbeing
Strategies (JHWSs). They have been encouraged to ensure that
the JSNA and JHWS take account of early years, working in partnership
with early years' services, children's social services and clinical
commissioning groups. The DfE sees children's centres having a
part in "influencing local strategic assessments, and commissioning
decisions taken forward by the local authority, in partnership
with the Health and Wellbeing Board", through "assessing
strengths and need across the area".
From 2015, responsibility for commissioning services for 0 to
5 year olds and health visitors will also move from NHS England
to local authorities. These new arrangements should offer greater
scope for multi-agency commissioning, which evidence to our inquiry
suggested was currently weak, with separate budgets for health
and employment services and separate budget-holders.
114. Centre leaders and providers criticised
the current approach to commissioning by local authorities, particularly
its short-term nature. Barnardo's stated that: "the tendency
of commissioners to offer contracts of three years or shorter,
makes it difficult for voluntary sector providers of Sure Start
children's centres to demonstrate either short- or long-term outcomes
[...] let alone recoup tender and set-up costs. It is an improbable
business model that delivers profit and reliably measureable results
within one year and no private sector start-up would plan to do
Clare Tickell of Action for Children stressed that "the commissioning
of children's centres must provide more emphasis on stability
for children and families" through a Government commitment
"to developing an approach to funding that is underpinned
by long-term planning and consistent support".
This would allow a move away from three year contracts, with a
primary focus on price. Local authority witnesses pointed out
that short-term commissioning was the result of uncertainty over
their own budgets.
115. We believe that multi-agency
commissioning makes for the best use of resources and the most
informed service delivery. We recognise the difficulties caused
by short-term funding decisions and recommend that the Government
examine how a longer term view of children's centre funding can
be taken within current spending decision cycles.
Reconfiguration and closure of
116. Ofsted reported that many local
authorities are redesigning their centres so that they operate
in clusters, leading to a reduction in administration and back
office costs and increased opportunities to share specialisms.
In addition, an increasing number of centres are being brought
together to operate under shared leadership, management and governance
In response, Ofsted has revised "its framework so that it
is flexible enough to take account of the wide range of organisational
structures that are emerging across and within local authorities".
This means inspecting groups of centres across localities.
117. Research by the NFER found that
"leaders and local authority staff were more positive about
cluster models (where several Children's Centres work together
on strategic goals) than 'hub and spoke' models (whereby a leader
of a hub Centre is responsible for the work of satellite centres)".
The leaders felt that they were unable to get to know the families
using satellite centres and reported inefficiencies in managing
split sites (such as travelling time). A few leaders also complained
of increased accountability without the autonomy to remodel their
Centres to meet local needs.
The ECCE Strand 3 report, however, found that centres did not
think that a single site was the key factor in centre ethos.
118. In some cases, centres have reduced
their services rather than closed. Naomi Eisenstadt expressed
concern that this had led to centres which were "half a person
and a bunch of leaflets", thus rendering them ineffective.
She suggested that it would be better to have fewer, better resourced
children's centres in the poorest communities. Others disagreed.
Arguments against fewer centres include access difficulties and
a need to recognise the natural boundaries of different communities
within an area. Closing centres inevitably means that some disadvantaged
groups would lose the service and it is highly controversial because
they are very popular with parents.
Recent coverage of the planned closures in Oxfordshire illustrates
how strongly communities feel about access to local centres.
119. The DfE's statutory guidance contains
a presumption against the closure of individual children's centres.
The LGA argued that this "undermines the flexibility of local
authorities to design services in a way that best meets local
need and deploys resources to maximum benefit".
Barnardo's suggested that rather than closing under-utilised centres,
more should be done by local authorities to co-locate services
and also to allow the centres to be used in the evenings and at
weekends as community facilities.
4Children also suggested that "the priority for policymakers
ought not to be the closure of Children's Centres or withdrawal
of services, but rather sustaining the existing network and ensuring
that value is maximised".
For example, East Riding of Yorkshire Council told us that their
centres were used as training venues in evenings and at weekends
for practitioners, foster carers and support groups for parent/carers.
120. Local authorities are also required
to involve communities in the development of children's centres
where significant changes to the range and nature of services
are planned but one witness, Sue Owen of NCB, told us that "one
of the things we lost fairly early on in the Sure Start programme
was community involvementa much greater role for local
communities in commissioning services, designing services, and
thinking about what services their local area needed."
She suggested that this type of "bottom-up push" might
be needed now. ATL considered that the statutory guidance needed
to be more explicit on what constitutes a significant change and
that the duty must be strengthened to ensure that parents could
make their views heard and influence any final decision by the
121. Closing centres is not popular
but we accept that the current pattern of provision may not be
the best model to meet the needs of different areas. Change in
the network may make centres as a whole more effective. We therefore
welcome the innovative approach being taken to adopting different
models of provision. New patterns of provision will require fresh
responses from centre workers and their partners. Local authorities
should be prepared to help with this, whether with training or
other practical assistance.
122. An existing centre should be
closed only where there has been proper consultation with the
public and where the local authority has made a strong case for
a better way of achieving outcomes. Alternatives to closure,
including expansion and co-location of services, should be considered
as options in the consultation. Outstanding children's centres
should be encouraged by their local authorities to become public
service mutuals or to devise other methods to continue their work.
Local authority accountability
123. Local authorities are held accountable
for the effectiveness of children's centres through Ofsted inspections
of centres and of the authority's children's services as a whole,
but there is little to suggest that a general failure of children's
centres would lead to serious repercussions for the local authority.
The new outcomes framework we recommend earlier in this report
would help to focus minds and attention but would not be sufficient
unless greater accountability for local authorities were attached
to that framework.
124. In its July 2013 report, the Social
Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted this difficulty
and expressed concern that "the Government's objectives for
the early years, including high quality early years education
and children's centres (especially for low income parents), are
threatened by lack of adequate mechanisms for Government to hold
Local Authorities to account".
It recommended that the Government should
prioritise the development of new
local accountability mechanisms, including on local delivery of
children's centres and availability and quality of free early
learning places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. [... This should include]
central collation and public reporting of information, perhaps
by Ofsted, on the state of provision of early education and children's
centres in each Local Authority area, to include: the number of
providers, qualifications of staff, hours of opening, quality
and population served. The goal should be to strengthen local
accountability and parental choice, whilst enabling a central
social mobility objective (closing developmental gaps) to be achieved.
125. The Minister told us that she was
"keen to see local authorities held to account for their
overall performance in the provision of services and early intervention
for young children, rather than just the children's centres, because
it is hard to isolate the specific impact of the children's centre
as opposed to the overall range of services the child and parent
agreed that "we need to make sure local authorities are clear
about what the outcomes are of the programmes they run and what
and that "Local authorities should ultimately be accountable
for the outcomes of those young children".
126. The accountability framework
must ensure that the lead member and Director of Children's Services
remain focussed on early years. Questions raised by Ofsted about
children's centres in an authority should trigger the same reaction
as questions about schools or other children's services. We recommend
that the Government consult on a new accountability framework
for local authorities' children's services that puts as much weight
on early years and children's centres as on schools and children's
TWO YEAR OLD OFFER
127. The Government extended free pre-school
education and care to 20% of all two year olds in September 2013
and will extend it further to 40% from September 2014 at a cost
of £534m in 2013-14 and £760m in 2014-15. The offer
comprises 15 hours of free nursery care per eligible child. According
to the DfE, "success will be measured through an increase
in the proportion of disadvantaged two year olds accessing an
early learning place."
Results of research into a pilot run between 2006 and 2008 were
not promising, but the new scheme differs from that piloted by
offering double the hours per week in good or outstanding provision.
128. Several concerns were raised with
us about the two year old offer in the context of children's centres.
Dame Claire Tickell cited the offer as an example of how children's
centres were not integrated properly within the wider system.
Other witnesses were concerned about the impact on the childcare
provision for other age groups; on the finances of children's
centres since the funding for two years olds was below cost; and
on other services because centres were expected to provide family
support to the two year olds in addition to early education without
additional funding for this.
Finally, Naomi Eisenstadt described the offer as "nuts"
because it should be "a conditional offer on a kind of support
within a children's centre".
Other witnesses considered that the link between the two year
old offer for children and training or employment support for
parents should be encouraged but not made mandatory.
129. We also heard evidence of differences
in the funding provided to local authorities to deliver the provision.
The National Day Nurseries Association told us that, although
the Minister had asked local authorities to spend at least £5.09
per hour, "some local authorities are still only spending
£4.85 for the two year olds".
The Minister agreed that "it is unfair at the moment and
it is vastly disparate from local authority to local authority".
Responding to concerns about the availability of places in appropriate
settings, she told us that she had "not received any evidence
that there is a shortage of places for two year olds".
Local authority witnesses agreed that this would not be a problem.
By 11 November 2013, 70% of the necessary places had been found
for two year olds.
This leaves some way to go in the current year, and even further
for next September.
130. We welcome the two year old
offer but have concerns about the funding, the quality of providers,
the availability of places in effective settings and about the
impact on places for other age groups. We recommend that local
authorities monitor and report back to Government on the number
of places available in good or outstanding settings in 2013/14
in order that action can be taken before September 2014 if necessary.
131. There is a clear disparity
in how funding is being used by local authorities. The Government
should monitor funding and the impact on positive outcomes for
children. We recommend that there should be flexibility in the
use of the funding by local authorities to offer direct support
or parent intervention where families are not just poor but also
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT POLICY ON EARLY
132. There are no quick fixes in early
years provision, nor can the results of interventions be demonstrated
quickly. We heard some criticism of the lack of integration between
various elements of Government policy. For example, Professor
Nutbrown expressed concern that the Government was rushing into
implementation of new policies on qualifications without proper
Among other witnesses, Action for Children argued that there
was a "disconnect" between the Government's offer of
free early education and early intervention services offered by
children's centres, explaining that "parents have the biggest
impact on their children's educational attainment, so that efforts
to improve school readiness will be undermined if early intervention
and parenting support is detached from the early education offer."
It called for Government policy "to promote a joined up early
years offer for children and families."
This is not just a recent problem. Anne Longfield of 4Children
pointed out that "over the years significant amounts have
rightly been spent on early years and childcare provision, but
effective co-ordination between programmes is what, at times,
has been missing".
133. The July 2013 report from the Social
Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found gaps in the Government's
long-term ambition for early years provision and identified "a
need for far greater clarity about the Government's long-term
objectives". The Commission claimed that "it is unclear
what final destination Government is aiming for, when it hopes
to get there and how it will know if it has been successful".
It recommended that the Government should "set out a long-term
plan for narrowing the gaps in development in the early years,
including how it will prioritise the quality of early education,
children's centres and the role of parenting, to improve children's
134. In the course of this inquiry,
we have noted several contradictions in policy. For example,
the Minister evinced no enthusiasm for maintained nursery schools;
yet these are widely recognised to provide the highest quality
early education andwhen combined with children's centresoffer
the most effective model for achieving the child outcomes that
children's centres were set up to achieve. In the absence of
a clear strategy to secure their future, many maintained nursery
schools have closed in the last decade, with the result that the
opportunity to build on them to create a seamless integrated approach
for parents and children has been lost. There is also a clear
tension within the Government's policy on implementing changes
to early years qualifications, as we explore in the next chapter
of this report.
135. In general, there is a lack of
clarity about how all the different services involved work to
achieve the greatest impact in the early years stage. The Gross
report on information-sharing called for "a single birth
to five 'programme', setting out a single set of outcomes for
children and families, the roles and responsibilities of different
agencies and professionals in delivering those outcomes, and a
single 'reward' system for achieving them".
The Ministerial response did not address this directly but Elizabeth
Truss MP acknowledged to us that cross-Government working may
not be at its most effective in the early years: "One of
the issues we have is that it is very difficult for local authorities
to merge services or create one-stop shops, because of the different
instructions they get from different Government Departments".
She also pointed to the "history of lots of different programmes
being administered at a local level with different funding streams
[...] with their own targets".
The Minister assured us that DfE was working with the Department
of Health to ensure that "there is a clearer message"
and that "the silos between Government are also reducing
[...] which is very important".
136. There has been, and continues
to be, too much short-term and disparate government policy in
the area of early years. Too much reorganisation of services
impedes professional relationships and communication. The change
in funding for early intervention from DfE to DCLG emphasises
the role of local authorities in tailoring services to meet local
needs but breaks the direct link between the Department for Education
and children's centres. Changes in funding streams also lead
to short-term contracts and distract centres from their crucial
work with disadvantaged children and families. We recommend that
the Government set out coherent, long-term thinking on early years
and the place of children's centres within that, including funding,
responsibility across Whitehall and accountability.
137. We are particularly concerned
about Government policy towards maintained nursery schools. They
offer capacity and a recognised level of expertise which needs
to sit at the centre of the Government's proposals on Early Years
Teaching Schools. We recommend that the Department for Education
set out a strategy for ensuring the survival of those that remain
and for encouraging the further development of the network of
nursery schools with children's centres throughout the country.
236 Ev 226 Back
Policy Exchange (2013), p20 Back
ECCE Strand 3, p.23 Back
Ev 202, para 7, 11 Back
Ev 205, para 30 Back
Ev 163, para 38 Back
The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report A child-centred
system, Professor Eileen Munro, DfE (May 2011) Back
Early action: landscape review, National Audit Office, 31 January
Ibid., p7 Back
APPG on Sure Start, Best Practice for a Sure Start: The way forward
for Children's Centres (July 2013) Back
See for example Moore, TG, and McDonald, M (2013), Acting Early,
Changing Lives: How prevention and early action saves money and
improves wellbeing. Prepared for the Benevolent Society. Parkville,
Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children's
Research Institute and The Royal Children'sHospital
Sure Start children's centres core purpose, DfE, April 2012 Back
Ev 198, para 34 Back
Ev 163 Back
Ev 182 Back
Ev 176 Back
ECCE Strand 3, p. xxvii Back
Ev 224 Back
Ev 198 Back
Ev 206 Back
Ev 234 Back
Ev w29 Back
Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, July 2013, p14 Back
Response to Education Select Committee questions on the DfE Main
Estimate 2013-14, DfE, 12 June 2013, published on Committee website Back
The Early Education Pilot for Two Year Old Children: Age Five
Follow-Up, DfE Research report, March 2013 Back
See for example Q53 [Angela Prodger], Q397 [Purnima Tanuku], Qq398-400
[Liz Klavins] Back
See for example Ev 206 Back
Qq 776-81 Back
HC Debates, 11 November 2013, c627 Back
Ev 165 Back
Ev 209 Back
Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Social mobility:
the next steps, July 2013, p14 Back
Gross report, p6 Back