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9 February 2011

Cameron’s sleight of hand on Sure Start

The PM misled the Commons when he said Sure Start was not being cut.

By George Eaton

David Cameron has been up to his old tricks again. At today’s PMQs, he attempted to rebut the charge that the coalition is cutting funding for Sure Start. Cameron said: “On Sure Start, the budget is going from £2,212 million to £2,297 million. That budget is going up, that is what’s happening.” Here’s why he was wrong on almost every count.

1. The coalition has not protected the Sure Start budget. It has amalgamated funding for the centres into a new “early intervention grant” (EIG), which also includes funding for programmes related to teenage pregnancy, mental health and youth crime.

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2. Cameron was right to point out that the EIG is increasing from £2.2bn in 2011-2012 to £2.3bn in 2012-2013 but he was wrong to imply that this amounts to an overall increase in funding. The programmes covered by the grant received nearly £2.5bn in 2010 but this year they will receive just £2.2bn – a cut of £270m. As the Department for Education confirmed last year: “In 2011-12, the amount to be allocated through EIG is 10.9 per cent lower than the aggregated 2010-11 funding through the predecessor grants.”

3. The decision to cut the overall grant by 11 per cent means there is a danger that Sure Start funding will fall as councils choose to prioritise other programmes. Conversely, there is a theoretical possibility that funding will rise as even deeper cuts are made elsewhere. But, whatever the outcome, it is dishonest of Cameron to suggest that there will be an automatic increase in spending on Sure Start.

The likelihood, as the Labour MP Frank Field (the coalition’s “poverty tsar”) warned earlier this week, is that Sure Start will be “decimated” by the cuts. As he noted, several local authorities are cutting it in half, even though the cut in their budget is 11 per cent.

4. At the Spending Review, George Osborne pledged to protect the Sure Start component of the EIG in cash terms. But, as Ed Miliband pointed out at PMQs today, even this amounts to a real-terms cut of 9 per cent.