Funding for Sure Start centres in the North East has been slashed by half in less than a decade, figures have revealed.
The scheme was launched in 1998 by a then-Labour government and aimed at “giving children the best possible start in life”.
More than 3,600 Sure Start centres were built nationwide, offering early learning and childcare in the poorest communities, as well as parenting advice, health services and links to training and employment.
But the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government formed in 2010 declined to ring-fence funding - and councils, which control Sure Start centres, have been hit hard by austerity cuts.
Now, new figures from the Department for Education have revealed the scale of the damage.
They show councils in the North East spent a total of £30.2 million on Sure Start centres and early years centres in 2018/19.
That was down from £32.7 million in 2017/18 - and as much as £61.0 million in 2011/12, when comparable figures begin.
It is a cut of 50.6% in just seven years.
The data reveals that Newcastle and South Tyneside are the only places in the region which have managed to protect Sure Start centres against swingeing budget cuts.
In every other North East council area, Sure Start spending has fallen since the 2011/12.
The situation in our region mirrors the national trend.
Across all English councils, spending on Sure Start centres and early years centres stood at £591.6 million in 2018/19.
That was down 11% compared to the previous financial year.
And it was half a billion pounds less than the £1.1 billion spent in 2011/12.
Sure Start was seen as the brainchild of former chancellor Gordon Brown.
He announced the scheme backed by an initial £540 million of central government funds to kick-start the first three years.
Tony Blair described Sure Start as one of New Labour’s “greatest achievements”.
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The scheme was expanded beyond the most disadvantaged communities and control passed to councils.
But cuts to council budgets have hit Sure Start along with other local authority services.
A recent study by the Sutton Trust suggested as many as 1,000 Sure Start centres may have been shut down in England since 2010.
The study claimed the programme was at a “tipping point” - and urged the government to reconnect with its original aims to prevent further erosion of the service.