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Posted on 27 January 2012 at 23:02 GMT

'Save Manchester Sure Start' hosted conference

Rosie Heaton, Save Manchester Sure Start campaigner and Socialist Party member

Campaigners from across the north-west and beyond fighting to save Sure Start children's centres held a very successful conference on 7th January, hosted by the 'Save Manchester Sure Start' campaign.

The Save Manchester Sure Start campaign has been fighting since February 2011 to ensure that Manchester's network of Sure Start centres and daycare provision stays open and remains run by Manchester City Council.

Since the Labour-run council announced cuts to Sure Start, the campaign has maintained pressure on the council and has met with Children's Services executives and our elected leaders on a regular basis to ensure that the voices of users of Sure Start are heard.

We secured a city-wide consultation that ended in January and we await the outcome of the council's plans to withdraw from providing childcare, turning Sure Start centres into 'community hubs'.

This essentially means that the focus will be removed from children and families and also they plan to target services to the most needy instead of them being a universal service for all.

When planning the 7th January conference we were aware of the broad-based and diverse groups and organisations who were actively involved in campaigns that oppose the coalition government cuts and also the level of feeling from different groups about the importance of Sure Start and how we all in some way have a vested interest in fighting for such an important service for children and families.

The conference was attended by around 70 people, including Sure Start users, council workers, trade unionists from Unite health and local government and Salford Unison, health visitors, social workers, teachers and health professionals and Sure Start workers from Manchester, Southport and Liverpool.

Sure Start campaigns from across the north-west and Socialist Party members from Manchester and Salford also came along to show their support.

The conference created a healthy debate, in particular over the importance of good quality and affordable childcare provided by the local authority, as research shows that vulnerable children in poorer areas have better outcomes when they attend a publicly-run early years setting.

Speakers at the conference also reinforced the importance of Sure Start in tackling child poverty and worklessness and the real dangers that families face from this government's spending cuts.

Children in low-income households are more likely to do less well at school, to suffer ill health and crime, to struggle in the job market when adult and most disturbingly, to die younger.

This prospect seems to sit comfortably with our leaders both locally and nationally. However, as a campaign it does not sit comfortably with us and we will continue to send out the same message - keep our services open, public and universal.

Resolution passed

At the end of the conference we discussed and passed a resolution: "The Manchester Declaration 2012".

The declaration, agreed after some friendly amendments, includes the establishment of a national forum that will include trade unions, charities, voluntary organisations and community based campaigns. The forum will be recalled in April/May 2012.

The national forum will urge the government to reinstate the ring-fence to the early intervention grant which funds Sure Start services.

This will ensure that local councils do not have the option to use funding for Sure Start to plug gaps in other services.

The Declaration also resolves to:

One of the key outcomes of the meeting was the role that trade unions have in supporting local campaigns and the local community to fight for jobs and services.

The campaign aims to move forward by continuing to engage with the many supportive trade unions, as well as trying to engage with those trade unions in Manchester that have so far ignored our requests for support.

Our next fight in Manchester will be the outcome of the Early Years Consultation and building for a lobby of the council executive on 15th February with the support of Manchester Trades Council and other activists.

We also wish to be part of the lobby of the full council meeting that will take place in March.

We will continue to fight for our services and ensure that we have a voice in the key decisions that affect our services and the future of the children in Manchester.

For more information, please contact savesurestart@hotmail.com

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