Best Start centres under threat again from Flemming’s survey

Our council reporter, PEARL LEE, on the latest stitch-up survey being rushed through as a ruse to justify cuts to services for babies and toddlers

Sure Start threat: Alisa Flemming proposed cutting the service’s budget in half last year

Here comes another council “survey” where the information scraped from residents will be used to justify more service cuts and closures.

It is just nine months since the council ran a self-serving public “consultation” to try to justify pushing through a swingeing £1million a year cut to Croydon’s provision of its Best Start Children’s Centres.

Not for the first, nor the last time, the Labour-run council was attempting to take harsh financial measures which would have impacted the poorest and most vulnerable in the borough, to try to claw back some of the money which years of their own misadministration at the Town Hall had lost.

The cuts proposed by the cash-strapped council in 2021 will have hit the south of the borough the hardest (what a surprise!), and included the proposed closure of the Purley Oaks children’s centre.

The push-back from the public was so strong that the council was forced to step back from its proposals. They suggested that they would have a rethink. Now, it seems, that they have, and last week they sneaked out the latest “survey” which, true to form, offers a series of leading questions to help them justify what they couldn’t push through last year.

The latest survey, the council says, is “to inform a new Croydon partnership early years strategy that will be published later this year”.

The press release from the propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly is full of bright, positive language, so deceptively used, talking about a “vision for how young children in Croydon can be safe, healthy and happy and for them to aspire to be the best they can be”. Which would be nice.

But you’d best be quick about it. The council doesn’t want the views of mothers, fathers and carers so much that they are running their “survey” for too long: the press release and council website state that the survey closes on March 6, after barely three weeks – half the time usually taken for any sort of valid public consultation (there is the matter of the purdah period before the local elections; there is no real reason this “survey”, if the council truly wanted the public’s input, could not have waited until after May 5).

The council manages to contradict itself, however: the survey form says that the deadline is March 20. Given Croydon Council’s less-than-glowing reputation for good governance, it probably would be best not to delay beyond March 6 if you want to feed in to this “survey”…

“The council wants to find out what is important to parents and carers, and anyone working with children up to the age of five, and what would help to improve the experience and outcomes for their children,” the council states.

North-South divide: this is the current provision of Best Start services across the three constituencies of Croydon

Croydon has the largest population of children and young people of any borough in London. The early years period includes from pregnancy to the end of the reception year in primary school.

Croydon children’s centres were established 20 years ago as part of a partnership with the health service.

The partnership includes families, health visitors, midwives, GPs, early learning practitioners and children’s centres. It stems from the Sure Start flagship policy introduced by Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown in 1998, and has been widely acknowledged as helping to improve the lives, and life-chances, of young children and their families.

The council, which as recently as last May was seeking to dismantle its Sure Start services, says, “A vast number of services and information already exists in Croydon to support children and their families. This includes health and wellbeing care, rhyme-time and story-time at libraries, childcare and pre-school education.

“Croydon Best Start offers help and support on these services and more.” Which is true. As long as it is properly funded. By the council.

Last year the council proposed cuts from the £2.162million budget that has been in place since 2016, down to £1.162million per year, with the closure of a number of existing centres.

There can be little doubt that this latest, short-run survey, is an exercise in justifying the same – or worse – cuts and closures.

One concerned parent, who went through last year’s dodgy consultation, told Inside Croydon, “It’s so blatant, and so transparent. They have committed to making cuts because of their own bad management, and now it’s my kids and the generations of children after them who are having to pay.”

The council, dripping with insincerity, puts it like this: “The information and data collated from the survey will help to develop the strategy, tackle inequality and ensure that all local services are meeting the diverse needs of the people in Croydon.”

Behind the latest survey is Alisa Flemming, a leading member of the Newman numpties who, as cabinet member for children and schools, oversaw the council’s children’s services failing its Ofsted inspection in 2017.

Under threat: children’s centres and nursery places – as well as jobs – could be under threat if more cuts are put through

This required huge amounts of additional spending to put things right – around £30million over three years to 2020 – and that continued, unfettered spending has been flagged up by successive consultants and auditors’ reports in the last 18 months who have suggested that it remains an important contributor to the council’s financial collapse.

The bean-counters talk in terms of “uncontrolled demand” around children’s services. The reality is that with such a borough with such a young and growing population, the council lacks the money to meet the growing demand.

Flemming remains a cabinet member and councillor, and will be seeking re-election in May in the Norbury Park ward, in an area of the borough which, according to her budget-cutting proposals last year, would have remained remarkably unaffected by changes to the Sure Start centres.

“The survey is open to everyone and all feedback is essential to help shape the strategy,” Flemming said last week in announcing the latest survey.

“We constantly review our work to ensure that the borough is providing accessible and joined-up services that offer support at the right time and in the right place. We look forward to receiving your views.”

If you would like to share your views with Councillor Flemming, the early years’ survey can be completed here.

Paper copies of the survey are available by emailing or calling 020 8726 6000.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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