I was dismayed to hear that the current administration at Nottinghamshire County Council are to fully privatise all SureStart centres in the county. This vital service for new parents was put out to tender at the end of April this year but understandably, the council seems to be keeping pretty quiet about it.
No doubt, the arguments will be that this will be to improve the service but I’m struggling to think of an example of where privatisation of public services has achieved this. Privatisation puts profits over people and when these people are our young children it’s pretty sickening that their early education is being seen as an area for potential profiteering.
One of the great things about SureStart is that it’s available at no cost to every parent. By potentially bringing private companies into the equation, money has to be made somewhere. Will this lead to a two tier system of those that pay for the service and those that don’t?
Despite the government and media portrayal of all people on low incomes as feckless scroungers, out to grab anything they can, the vast majority of people on low incomes have their pride and it would be interesting to see how many would continue to use the service if the system became one where you had to declare your means and income at the door.
Often the children that are slipping through the net in the education system are those that come from poorer backgrounds, which is one of the very reasons that SureStart was set up. To ensure that all children, regardless of background, got a good start in life. I’m sure any primary school teacher will agree that there is a marked difference between children that have been socialised from an early age and those that have not had opportunity to learn through play with other children at groups, childminders or nurseries.
The council still maintain that they are committed to SureStart even though six months after the closure of the children’s centre at the John Godber Centre, the Marketplace children’s centre is still not running a specific group for two to three-year-old children as it was before the closure. Parents were assured that this group was on temporary hold until things had settled down following the changes but six months have passed and we’re still waiting. This is the age group that will get the most benefit from socialisation before they get the chance to start their nursery education in a more formal setting the term after their third birthday.
I heard on the news this morning that the County Council have underspent by £34m. They are claiming this is careful financial planning but it seems to me that this is money that has been cut from vital public services to the detriment of the service users including the most vulnerable in our society. It is not money that has come from increasing efficiency or effective management of funds but money that has been taken from areas that still desperately need it. Still, I admit it makes a good headline that the Council has made these ‘savings’. Call me cynical but could there be an election campaign coming up?