Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Future not so sure for Sure Start...

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how Michael Gove will reform Sure Start, but have run into obstructions at the Department for Education’s press office - typical blocking tactics from Whitehall.

Anyway, the email 'to and fro' that I had with DfE doesn’t make things sound particularly promising for Sure Start. Extracts below…

Me: I have some questions about the Spending Review 2010 document I was hoping you could answer please.

Relating to page 41, paragraph 2.2: “Sure Start services will be protected in cash terms and will be refocused on their original purpose, targeting early intervention on families who need most support…”

• Does this mean Sure Start will still provide the same range of services, but merely for fewer people?
• If so how will the Government decide which people can access Sure Start?
• Otherwise does it mean that Sure Start will provide fewer services as well? In which case, which services in particular will they no longer provide?

DfE: We remain committed to maintaining a national network of Sure Start Children’s Centres which offer universal services for all families and targeted services focused on the neediest families. This new approach reflects the Coalition commitment to refocus Children’s Centres and take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention. It includes an expansion of health visiting service and the introduction of Sure Start Health Visitors, offering better support for families.

Me: Please….
• list exactly which services you mean when you say “universal services”.
• list exactly which services you mean when you say “targeted services”.
• Were those services classified as “targeted” available before the spending review?
• Now that the spending review has taken place will they be available to more or less people (please give figures)?

DfE: One thing to say on Sure Start is that it is clear that Children’s Centres will need to take a much more innovative approach – working in partnership with local communities and voluntary organisations to provide a range of services. Other than that, more information will come out from the Department soon.

...make of that what you will.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Put your case, don't spin it.

At the moment I’m struggling to find anything new in Cameron’s announcement of a National Infrastructure Plan.

Everything in the plan seems to have been announced already. I found one policy in there that was announced as far back as July – essentially the whole thing seems to be a re-branding exercise.

It’s an old trick that goes like this – take a whole bunch of previously announced policies from different departments and re-package them in a document targeted at a particular audience, so that you can tell that audience that you’ve come up with policies especially for them.

The audience was the CBI conference this morning, which was told by Cameron: “I can announce today the UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Plan.”

It includes Crossrail, High Speed Rail, Green Investment Bank, grants for electric vehicles etc etc.

I’m not saying these things won’t benefit business or suggesting that Cameron shouldn’t get up and tell the CBI which of his polices will help them – merely having a gripe at the attempt to win news headlines by re-announcing old stuff in a new way.

I got sick of that kind of spinning under Labour and hoped the Tories wouldn’t do it – but the signs even when they were in opposition were that they would.

I suppose it would be politically naive to think it avoidable.

De Piero's first appearance

Gloria De Piero completed her transformation to political animal today when she took up her position on the front benches of the House of Commons for the first time.

A few of the new Labour intake who have sat on the opposition front bench have appeared a little nervous, but De Piero seemed unfazed.

TV journalists tend to have an on-camera “voice” which they slip in to when reporting and De Piero used hers at the despatch box.

It gave her an air of confidence, but she’ll need to back it up with wit if she really wants to stick it to her opposite number.

On the benches behind her were two other MPs who, with De Piero, seem to be an emerging gang which will feature big in Labour’s future.

They were new shadow minister Liz Kendall, who this blog once tipped as a future player, and Tristram Hunt – who knows De Piero from student Labour days.

Former Downing Street spokesman and new shadow minister Michael Dugher, who shares an office with De Piero in Westminster also moves in the circle.