23/10/2017 00:01 BST

Three Quarters Of Tory Councillors Worried About Cuts To Children's Centres, Poll Reveals

One centre closes every week across England.

svetikd via Getty Images

Nearly three quarters of Conservative councillors are worried about government funding cuts to children’s centres, a new poll has revealed.

The research, which saw 508 Tory local government representatives quizzed by charity Action for Children, showed 72% believe long-term funding for children’s services is a major concern for their council.

More than half say budget restrictions are making it harder for councils to meet their responsibilities towards children and young people, while 38% believe there is a “lack of clear direction and funding” from government.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Our findings show the growing fear that the government is failing in its pledge to give all children the best start in life.

PA Archive/PA Images
The introduction of Sure Start centres was a flagship New Labour policy.

“Around a third of children in England – nearly 200,0000 – fell behind by age five last year and with one children’s centre closing every week, we’re deeply concerned struggling families are being abandoned.

“Early years services are one of the key lifelines for families living in poor housing, in financial trouble, with mental health issues and those whose own childhood experiences affect their parenting. These lifeline services are being hollowed out, fragmented and cut, and children are bearing the brunt.

“The government needs a bold vision that will give direction and provide local authorities with adequate funding to make sure all our children get the best start in life.”

One Conservative council cabinet member who took part in the survey said the impact of further cuts would be “significant” and that their local authority had already been forced to scrap some family support services.

Figures show more than 350 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010.

Craig Brough / Reuters
Tracy Brabin said the closure of children's centres should 'shame' government ministers.

Tracy Brabin, Labour’s shadow early years minister, said the government was making it “impossible” for councils to provide the support children and families needed.

“It should shame ministers that they’re overseeing such a dramatic fall in these services when nearly half of children fail to meet developmental milestones by age five,” she added.

“It goes to show ‘social mobility’ is nothing but a catchphrase to them.

“With Sure Start centres closing across the country at an alarming rate, as their funding continues to be slashed, there are more and more children who need support, but are not able to access it because of this government.

“The next Labour government will provide these vital services with the funding they need, including a ring-fenced grant of £500 million a year for Sure Start.”