The very existence of Sure Start is now in serious jeopardy. The previous government forced the closure of 800 children’s centres. Hundreds, if not thousands, more are now at risk due to ongoing cuts. We simply cannot afford to lose this unique and cherished public service. This week, Labour Friends of Sure Start is launching a pamphlet, which in turn seeks to launch a campaign.
Sure Start, What Future? is a set of reflections on the future of Sure Start under a Tory government. It is an excellent read and charts a clear way forward. Sure Start centres need to become community hubs, encompassing a range of family services. There must be a reinvigorated push to robustly evidence Sure Start’s undoubted value. But the strongest message in this pamphlet is not about policy; it is the need to campaign tirelessly to protect our children’s centres.
We need to shift from adversarial electioneering to problem-solving and consensus-building. Rather than using Sure Start as a means to attack the government, we need to work together to find creative solutions to keep our children’s centres open. As Tristram Hunt says in the pamphlet: ‘It is far better to use what power we have, than bemoan the fact we are out of it for five years.’ We all have a vital role to play in this.
The Labour frontbench cannot offer money, but it can provide clear leadership in asking Labour councils to avoid closing children’s centres. After years of brutal budget settlements, this will not be easy. But we need to build a consensus across the Labour movement, that Sure Start is unique and that it literally faces extinction.
We need Labour councils to embrace this challenge: to innovate and to share their experiences. However difficult, there is always an alternative to closing children’s centres. Each authority will need to find the solution which best suits its own community – but we need all Labour councillors to insist that Sure Start centres remain open.
The centres themselves have a huge role to play. We need a constant flow of national headline data. Even more importantly, we need every local campaign to be empowered with clear evidence that their local children’s centre is transforming lives in that neighbourhood.
Equally crucial is harnessing the power of personal testimony. Over a million families used children’s centres in 2013. Every one of these families has a story. We need to ensure that these stories are heard. Not by unleashing the anger of protest in a wall of noise, but by placing these personal stories at the absolute heart of a new, inclusive campaign.
Sure Start supports people in their darkest moments; understandably mums do not always find it easy to share their experiences. But it is these human stories which most powerfully illustrate the incredible impact of Sure Start. We need to build warm, inclusive campaigns which show centre users the power of their words and empower them to share their stories with local and national decision-makers.
We simply cannot let this government destroy Sure Start. If we lose this priceless infrastructure now, it will be gone for generations. The human cost of this would be simply incalculable. We all have a role to play in preventing this.
Personal testimony is a uniquely powerful tool. When combined with a clear evidence base, a council keen to help and a national frontbench giving full support – that personal testimony becomes an unstoppable force.
Building that unstoppable force is LFoSS’s goal and this pamphlet is a first step. We want to involve as many people as possible, so please join us, Tristram Hunt, Sharon Hodgson, Graham Allen and others to launch the pamphlet at 7pm on Tuesday 14 July in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
Michael Pavey is director of Labour Friends of Sure Start and deputy leader of Brent council. He tweets @MikeyPavey
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