Yesterday I attended a public meeting of 'Save Manchester Sure Start', a campaign launched when the council threatened to privatise Manchester's 36 SureStart Centres as part of 'The Cuts'. A number of women spoke eloquently and sometimes movingly of how much Sure Start had helped them in difficult times; how it was so much more than a basic service for young children. A key point raised time and again was that the early intervention provided by and through Sure Start Centres prevented situations where social services would have had to get involved, saving grief for parents and children - and saving money for the authorities including the council.
Another key topic was an alleged campaign of intimidation by the council against staff working in Sure Start Centres. There is plenty of evidence that staff and users have been discouraged from campaigning on this issue since it first arose earlier in the year. Council Leader Sir Richard Leese, who attended the meeting, claimed that this was because of the 'Purdah' which prevents local councils from expressing political views during election campaigns. However the problems precede that and include a leaked email instructing Children's Services staff to block out parents campaigning to protect their Sure Start centres (as reported in 'The Mule').
The campaign produced the following draft statement which was agreed overwhelmingly at the meeting (with the addition of a deadline of Tues 3rd May for the council to agree - just before polling day...). I agree totally with the statement.
"This forum believes that the children of Manchester are the City's future and as such they should be regarded as its major asset. We are committed to work tirelessly to ensure that all the public services in the city are providing the best public services to our children's futures and the resources needed should be regarded as a long term investment not just for our children but also for our communities and Manchester as a city.
This forum believes that the first stage of this investment begins at birth. We believe that all children are equal and should be guaranteed equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender, disability or social economic status. All public services should be inclusive not exclusive. It is the view of the Forum what these criteria are currently being delivered through Manchester City Council's Sure Start Childrens Centres.
This Forum agrees that despite the City Council's finances, Manchester's Sure Start Childrens Centres should remain publicly funded and run as a public service which in our view will ensure better quality standards and greater accountability with parents, users and our communities.
This Forum believes Manchester City Council should agree to holding a 3 month consultation involving representatives from the Friends of Manchester Sure Starts Forum and the Trade Unions to discuss in detail all the options regarding the financing and future of Manchester Sure Start Childrens Centres. The outcome of that consultation shall be produced in a report with options for Manchester City Council to consider.
In conclusion, until that process has been completed this Forum calls on Manchester City Council to suspend with immediate effect all outsourcing related work on its Sure Start Childrens Centres"
As well as being thanked for attending the meeting Leese was given a tough time. Under pressure he did appear to put on the table a '4th Option' of keeping the Sure Start Centres under Council control. We will see.