The claim
“Sure Start services will be protected in cash terms, and the programme will be refocused on its original purpose.”
Chancellor George Osborne MP, Spending Review statement, October 20, 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
The chancellor couldn’t have been clearer. When he set out £81bn of spending cuts, George Osborne was clear that in cash terms – before inflation is taken into account – spending on the country’s network of Sure Start centres would be protected.

But will it? Combing through the fine print of today’s town hall cuts, there is serious room for doubt.

The analysis
During the election, Labour accused the Tories of planning to cut £200m from the Sure Start budget. We gave the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt in a previous FactCheck.  Tonight, though, FactCheck has unearthed new question-marks about the government’s commitment to the programme.

This year, £1.1bn was spent on Sure Start, and the Chancellor promised in October that that figure wouldn’t change. But since then the education secretary Michael Gove said funding for Sure Start would be wrapped into a new “early intervention grant”. Today the government set out exactly which other programmes would be covered by the grant. They include measures to tackle teenage pregnancy and breaks for disabled children.

In the small print of today’s documents, the education department confirms: “In 2011-12, the overall amount to be allocated through EIG is 10.9% lower than the aggregated funding that makes up the notional baseline in 2010-11. In 2012-13 it is 7.5% below 2010-11.”

The programmes covered by the grant were in total worth £2.5bn this year. Next year, they will only be worth £2.2bn. And an education department spokesman told FactCheck that Sure Start funding was not ring fenced. So if councils want to spend more of their early intervention grant combating teenage pregnancy, for example, and less on children’s centres, they are completely at liberty to do so.

Cathy Newman’s verdict
The chancellor’s promise on Sure Start rings hollow. It may be that councils decide to protect the children’s centres, but when the early intervention grant is being cut overall by 11 per cent, town halls have little room for manoeuvre.

By the end of next year, if I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t put money on £1.1bn being spent next year, as it was last year. By letting the programme take its chances alongside an array of other projects, it is hardly protecting Sure Start – more like throwing it to the wolves.