Thursday, 25 February 2010

Sure Start staff could opt out and be in a co-operative, say Tories

Staff at government Sure Start centres will be the first in the public sector to be able to opt out of their current employment and sell their services back to the taxpayer through co-operatives or as partners with a charity if the Conservatives win the next election.

David Willetts, the shadow minister for universities and skills – with special responsibility for families – outlined the plan today, claiming public sector employees had failed to help the poor.

The Conservatives say that Sure Start was meant to focus money, nursery staff and health visitors on pre-school children in poor areas. Labour has, however, pumped around £1bn a year into the programme, whichby March will see 3,500 centres covering all under-fives in England.

"There's evidence that [we] have lost the focus on the families who most need the help," Willetts said.

He also said that the government had spent £70m to hire outreach workers in disadvantaged areas but that the National Audit Office had shown that more money had not seen a rise in the amount of time spent actively targeting hard-to-reach families. Willetts told a conference organised by the charity 4Children that the Tories would focus on health visitors to identify the most needy and then get them to work with co-operatives and charities to reach some of the hardest cases, win their trust and tailor services to their particular needs.

The "co-operative" message fits a Conservative agenda, he said, to prise control from government and put it into the hands of third-sector organisations which are an attractive source of "competition, innovation and localism".The Tories said that they were looking at setting up an "early years unit" in government to fund the co-operatives. "I think quite a lot of the early years budget is stuck in the hands of local authorities without ever reaching the hands of the parents," he said.


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