Notes from a new councillor: opposing Conservative cuts to children’s centres

One of the key elements in my campaign for election as Oxfordshire County Councillor was the cut in funding many of the Children’s Centres throughout Oxfordshire.

The closure of the Maple Tree Children’s Centre, Wheatley, in my patch inflamed the local community. Many parents and carers relied on the services and support provided at the Children’s Centre for health advice, parenting support, breast-feeding counselling, and meeting other local parents/carers.

This has been a big local issue. Our new Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran, secured a debate in Westminster Hall on Children’s Centres. She moved that, “That this House has considered the role of children’s centres in tackling social inequality.”  You can read the full debate here.

Of those children’s centres slated for closure, communities were given the opportunity to keep their centres open. Residents of Wheatley rallied and a group was set up. The hope is that they will re-open the Maple Tree Children’s Centre from September, albeit with more limited services.

My gripe is this: why cut funding for services which support the newest members of our society? Yes, savings needed to be made, but I would argue this is a false economy. Providing support for young parents, for single-parent families, for carers, for the children themselves, gives children a much better start in life.

These centres also build community. I remember when my three girls were young, and how my husband and I took it in turns to access local play groups, health visitor clinics, etc. The friendships made, and the peer-support offered, were invaluable.

Relying on volunteer groups to run these children’s centres is an ask too far. These centres should be government-funded services. They need to be offered and run for the benefit of local communities.

Families and children need support from day 1. Cutting these services is endangering children and isolating families. And, to reiterate Layla’s point, does not help tackle social inequality.

* Kirsten Johnson is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and Day Editor for Lib Dem Voice. She stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election.

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23 Comments

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '17 - 1:22pm

    Articles like this do sustain my belief that Lib Dems do have their hearts in the right place. But, on the other hand little remarks such as “Yes, savings needed to be made” make me wonder if Lib Dems see the bigger picture. From the point of view of a local council whose budget has been cut, yes, of course, this is true.

    But from the point of view of central government, which doesn’t have a budget at all in the same sense, then savings don’t necessarily have to be made. IF we were in a similar situation to a previous generation and we had so many people tied up in a war effort and there was simply no one available to run children’s centres then yes we’d have to make savings and do without them.

    But there’s no shortage of willing workers who would like to help out. If we could “afford” the Maple Tree Children’s Centre ten years ago we can still afford it now. Stop thinking about the money and consider the available resources in the economy.

    If Lib Dems are looking for a meaningful definition of a “radical centre ground” the party’s economists should throw out those neoliberal/monetarist text books and dust off those by Keynes and those who followed later. If capitalism is failing then Keynes offers an alternative to those who might be thinking that Marxism is the only viable option.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Aug '17 - 1:58pm

    Vince Cable used to teach about Keynes while he was a Labour councillor, despite the contradictions of the two roles.

  • I completely agree with Peter’s comments, and add would add we shouldn’t cherry pick particular services for special treatment at the expense of others.

    Over the last several years the party has gone up a blind alley supporting austerity and collaborating with a Tory Government in dismantling welfare and local government –
    and the services that for most of my lifetime it provided.

    For many of us that have clung on to the party probably out of misplaced loyalty and affection through that period I’m afraid I must say that this really is the last chance saloon for Vince Cable unless he can lead us in a radically different direction.

    It’s about making choices. A country that can ‘afford’ HS2, Crossrail, an Aircraft carrier with no aircraft, Hinkley Point, Trident, rip off train companies, and non-dom tax havens can – if it so chooses – support decent services for all ages according to need via local government. It’s about a mind set and about putting the needs of ordinary people first.

    If the party continues to be a nit picking nothing sort of party hooked on one issue to the exclusion of everything else then not only will it not survive, but rigor mortis will rapidly set in.

  • @ Richard Underhill “Vince Cable used to teach about Keynes while he was a Labour councillor, despite the contradictions of the two roles.”

    And what contradiction would that be ?

    It could could be argued that the Attlee Government was the first to apply Keynesian economics.

  • The Independent reports http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-big-question-how-many-single-parents-are-there-and-should-they-be-forced-to-work-434358.html
    “Of the 7.3 million families with parents of working age in Britain, 1.9 million are lone parents, in other words, nearly a quarter. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that nearly half of all lone parents are out of work. Only 56.5 per cent of lone parents are in work. Of the £92.8bn spent on benefits last year, some £3.9bn went on income support for lone parents. Income support is the benefit the overwhelming majority of single parents claim.”

    The economist Robert Frank.has proposed “a system of supplementing basic Income cash payments with offers of sub-minimum wage employment in publicly useful roles. The work would have to be new roles rather than replacement of current roles. The logic behind this idea is that the state is providing a Basic Income so it is reasonable that it should be able to supplement that to provide useful work that it wouldn’t otherwise be able to fund at a higher level. The individual benefits, the community benefits, and public agencies and local authorities benefit. As Frank states:
    “Experiments have demonstrated the existence of many useful tasks that can be performed by unskilled workers with proper supervision. (Some examples: landscaping and maintenance in parks; transporting the elderly and handicapped (sic); filling potholes in city streets; replacing burned out street lamps; transplanting seedlings in erosion control projects; removing graffiti from public places; painting government buildings; recycling newspapers and aluminium and glass containers; and staffing day care centres).”

    An employer of last resort function of the state in ensuring full employment is a more socially acceptable approach to fiscal and monetary policy than inflation targeting and addresses Peter’s criticism that we should “stop thinking about the money and consider the available resources in the economy.”

    As Kirsten notes “These (day care) centres should be government-funded services. They need to be offered and run for the benefit of local communities.” With close to a million lone parents surviving on benefits. topping up their income with paid work at day care centre’s and the like may well help keep these centres open and move us forward in tackling social inequality.

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '17 - 3:55pm

    @ David Raw,

    “It could could be argued that the Attlee Government was the first to apply Keynesian economics.”

    The first in peace time perhaps. The Churchill led coalition certainly used Keynes’ insights in its management of the war time economy. The priority at the time was to have the economy working as close to full capacity as possible but without inflation being allowed to rise into double figures as had happened during WW1.

    That said, there is an argument that the pre-war German Government was Keynesian before Keynes but this is a contentious point for obvious reasons! Nevertheless unemployment decreased from about 25% in 1933 to just about 0% in 1939. All for the wrong reasons of course! But nevertheless the economic circumstances of the German working class were much improved. For just a little while at least.

  • Peter Martin – and don’t forget the famous New Deal, which Tory-dominated Britain never had.

  • Jackie CHARLTON 19th Aug '17 - 8:00am

    Why does business invest and government cut? because this is a Tory government. I cannot agree with you Martin on your point about full employment. There was nothing good about having the full employment that the Nazi government created. It was based on propoganda, slave labour and an arms race.

    What is happening to children’s centres is happening in day centres too. Our Lib Dem opposition group just reversed a decision by the Cabinet in Powys to increase the cost of day centre lunches by 50% the argument being that day centres would have to close without increasing this. The motion was put by the Lib Dems and seconded by Labour showing a united opposition to this most draconian decision. We all know that savings (is that a real word in government?) have to be made but surely we should be looking at whether the need to ask for a contribution like this from the most vulnerable and least well off in society is appropriate, it became clear it was not. That was the victory and we will still have to find ways of reducing costs as well. I also believe that closing other vital non-essential services in local government is fueling long term crisis in our communities. Investment is needed and local government are beginning to make decisions based on that and seeing it as a way of paying for services in the future. But to make a real difference we need to get the Tories out of government and quick.

  • “It could could be argued that the Attlee Government was the first to apply Keynesian economics.”

    And could well be the reason why this nation is a debt and deficit ridden basket case addicted to overspending. When other nations rebuilt their wealth earning capability, we devoted ourselves to becoming world leaders at spending wealth we haven’t created and have now sold off everything (including the gold bullion).

    We live near Oxford and have seen the mothers and children protesting the closure of child centres.
    To be blunt they all looked to be very well dressed and prosperous as well as intelligent and articulate. Easily capable of organising their own mother and toddler gatherings without needing desperately constrained public cash, which is so essential for the helpless and struggling.

    BTW, David, I fully agree we can not afford any of those items on your list.

    And a lot more besides.

    Unless we kick the mind dulling habit of the Keynes opiate and face our true situation we must bequeath only absolute poverty to our precious grandchildren.

  • This thread is a microcosm of what is happening to whole areas of what we once considered essential services…
    Stephen Hawking is lambasting a raft of policies pursued since 2010 by the coalition and then the Conservatives in the NHS…he has singled out Jeremy Hunt for his most scathing remarks and Hunt has tweeted that Hawking is wrong…
    I ask myself whose assessment I believe…Hmmmmm

  • “That said, there is an argument that the pre-war German Government was Keynesian before Keynes”

    Yes it was and was heading for financial catastrophe from its unaffordable arms and autobahn building programmes. However they hit upon the wheeze of invading neighbouring countries and charging their victims the cost of being defeated (and pulling out and selling their gold teeth as well).

    I hope our addiction to Keynes doesn’t have to be paid for in a similar way. I can see no reason for a turn round in our fortunes. Can you? We seem to be at peak financial services and Brexit will make that worse. Our manufacturing plants close and move abroad on a continuous basis and our trade figures are dire but nobody cares>

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 9:13am

    @ Jackie Charlton,

    The same economics apply whatever the political motivation. So Keynesianism is politically neutral in that sense. We can have full employment by directing our available resources, ie raw materials and human labour power, towards armaments. Or, we can have it by directing them towards more socially useful projects like children’s centres. Keynes made the point that even if the direction was towards nothing particularly useful at all, digging holes and filling them in again, there could still be useful benefits because of the follow on effect of govt spending.

    Money is an IOU of govt. So business can only invest if government has first made an investment itself and issued money into the economy by Govt spending.

    “we need to get the Tories out of government and quick.”

    Agreed. but if whichever Govt follows is going to carry on with the same old Noeliberalism/Monetarism then we can’t expect much in the way of change. The Maple Tree Centre will still be under threat of closure.

    Thomas,

    Partially in agreement about the New Deal. There were similar ideas circulating at that time amongst economists. Schacht in Germany for example. Keynes would have picked up on these and developed them himself. Roosevelt was more cautious and probably interested in addressing social welfare concerns than creating a Keynesian-style macroeconomic stimulus package.

  • Katerina Porter 19th Aug '17 - 9:23am

    After the War we were pretty well bankrupt and had to borrow from the US on very hard terms – any trade deal with Trump wont be very favourable either – This loan was finally paid off in 2002 ? 2006 ?. During that time like most of the West we created welfare states and economies grew. One Nation Tory governments went along. The
    austerity policies and paying off the deficit in one parliament was basically an attack on the state – public services, public institutions. I wonder if there was research done on out sourcing all of it would be found to be effective or value for money.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 9:52am

    Palehorse,

    “And could well be the reason why this nation is a debt and deficit ridden basket case addicted to overspending”

    There is no overspending! There is no public debt problem other that created by people like yourself who perceive there to be one. If you look at that £5 note in your wallet you’ll be looking at the number +5. That positive sign represents your asset. The Government looks at that that £5 note and sees -5. If you have a £100 of premium bonds or NS certs you’ll see +100 on your balance sheet. The Government has -100 on its. So the Govt has to be in debt, it has to hold the negative numbers, so you can hold positive numbers ie your assets.

    If you buy Premium bonds or NS certs you are creating Govt debt. So is buying Premium bonds and NS Certs a bad thing? The Govt’s debt is your savings.

    The National Debt is about 90% of GDP. That’s like someone having an after tax income of £50k , or a before tax income of something like £80k, having a mortgage on 1% interest of £45k. Is that a big problem?

    That’s wouldn’t buy much in the way of housing in your neck of the woods! Now the debt that those young mothers you see protesting (and fathers too?) are having to take on is a problem. But that’s a different story.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 10:09am

    @Katerina,

    “After the War we were pretty well bankrupt”

    That’s not true. If we were , how was it that the Labour Government could nationalise railways, steel , coal etc to the extent of over 20% of the economy at the time? And still have money left over to start up the NHS?

    Sure, there were loans from the US during the war and loans afterwards. Britain was a beneficiary of the US Marshall plan which involved the forgiveness of some of those loans.

    There may or may not be a new trade deal with the US. But, either way, the Govt should be very wary of borrowing in US dollars. Anyone lending US dollars to the UK knows there is a possibility of default and so will demand much higher interest than if they lend them to the US Govt. Just like anyone will lend pounds to the UK Govt at 1% but would be looking at more like 4% or 5% if they lent them to a supposedly credit worthy local council.

    The UK govt can never run out of pounds. The local council can.

  • @ Peter Martin “After the War we were pretty well bankrupt” That’s not true. If we were , how was it that the Labour Government could nationalise railways, steel , coal etc to the extent of over 20% of the economy at the time? And still have money left over to start up the NHS?”

    I’m sorry, Peter, but it was – certainly if you accept the word of distinguished historians such as Corelli Barnett : viz :ww.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/marshall_01.shtml
    3 Mar 2011 – Despite the victory over Hitler, Britain was literally bankrupt,

    They did what they did because they were determined and boldand were advised by Keynes – unlike many modern politicians who seem too scared to offend anybody with their timidity and austerity.They also used the Marshall Plan money to partially fund it. If they are to be faulted it was that they believed Britain should still have pretensions to be a ‘world power’.

    Would that we had such bold politicians today…….. or perhaps we do ?

  • Peter, I don’t argue with Keynsian zealots. It’s like trying to trying to convince a Creationist Pastor from rural Alabama of evolution. I just keep a 100 trillion Zimbabwe Dollar note pinned to my notice board. If you want to see the consequences of countries running out of money with teachers unpaid and hospitals without medicine there are plenty out there. Can’t see why they don’t fix it easily with your maths.
    But that’s where we are going when your house of cards collapses.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 11:12am

    @ David Raw,

    With all due respect to Corelli Barnett, he’s not correct. We have to consider the nature of money to answer this question properly. If the UK had been on a gold standard throughout the war and had borrowed so much gold from, say, Switzerland or the USA that it was impossible to repay afterwards then, yes, we could say that the UK was bankrupt at the time because it had defaulted on its obligations.

    The same would have been true if the loans had been in Swiss francs or US dollars. It would have been possible for the UK to have defaulted on these loans. Some loans were indeed in this form and they did cause some difficulty to postwar Govts. But having ‘some difficulty’ isn’t the same as being bankrupt. These problems were resolved by mutual negotiation.

    But most ‘debt’ was accumulated by the UK govt denominated in pounds. The UK can never become involuntarily insolvent due to debts in its own currency. It can create an inflation problem by doing this and this was largely the reason why rationing had to be kept in place for several years after the end of the war. There was a lot of money sloshing about in the economy so Govt had to prevent it being spent too quickly.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 11:22am

    @ Palehorse,

    I agree that you shouldn’t try to argue. If somehow I did end up agreeing with you then we’d both be wrong! 🙂

    Instead you should put on you thinking cap and try to understand the nature of money. Everything has to some to zero. The Govt has to be in debt. And it isn’t in debt to the Swiss or the Martians. It’s largely in debt to us.

    You forgot to bring the Weimar Republic into the argument. Yes it’s quite possible to have hyperinflation if, in a post war situation, the productive capacity of the economy collapses. Inflation is when we have too much money chasing too few goods and services. So it’s not only the former that causes inflation. It’s the latter too.

  • Peter,

    around 30% of UK public debt is held by overseas investors, Overseas holdings have stayed fairly constant at 30%, helped by the Euro-crisis making UK debt more attractive than countries in the Eurozone.

    The willingness of overseas investors to purchase UK debt is one of the key ways we are able to sustain the large trade deficit we run year after year. Other ways in which foreign capital will flow into the UK is via the repatriation of the earnings of UK companies and individuals overseas and foreign investment in the UK through the acquisition of businesses, UK stocks and real property.

    The level of public debt is a significant factor in maintaining confidence in sterling investments. The higher the debt and debt service costs the greater the downward pressure on sterling. As sterling depreciates, although new foreign investments may look cheaper and exports may get a boost, existing investments by foreigners in the UK lose value diminishing confidence in making further investments.

    Without this inflow of capital the UK would start to run short of foreign reserves and face an old fashioned balance of payments crisis. We haven’t seen one since the 1970’s, but plenty of other counties have.

    Sterling is only a reserve currency as long as overseas investors retain confidence in the currency as a store of value. Once that confidence is eroded the ability to run a trade deficit is greatly impaired.

    The key issue is to use borrowings intelligently – ideally only for investment in infrastructure (outside of wartime) that develops the economic capacity of the country. particularly housing infrastructure. Where current (non-capital) spending is deficit funded, then taxation needs to be at a high enough level to contain inflation and maintain confidence in the currency as a store of value i.e. current account deficit spending % should not normally exceed the %. of GDP growth.

    The Libdem manifesto policy for a publicaly funded housing infrastructure bank can borrow to its heart content, if the proceeds are invested in land and buildings on which ground rents and loan interest are recouped to meet debt service costs.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 3:57pm

    @ Joe Bourke,

    The gist of your comment pretty is pretty much in-line with the ‘conventional wisdom’. But as nearly always in Economics we shouldn’t just accept this so-called “wisdom”. It’s often a lot of nonsense! So let’s just take a look at how it really works.

    The UK is a net importing country. About 4.5% of GDP the last time I checked. I think that’s down a bit from what it was mainly due to the fall in the pound’s value. Other countries like Denmark, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, China like to be net exporting countries. They accumulate an excess of currencies of the net importers like the UK and the USA.

    So what are they going to do with their pounds? They can’t spend them on jet engines from RR or on expensive Scotch whiskies. If they did that they wouldn’t be net exporters any longer. If they get annoyed with us they can swap them for another currency but that will reduce the value of the pound and we won’t be able to be afford so many imports. Again they risk not being net exporters any longer. And they like being net exporters. It’s almost a matter of National pride for Germany.

    So the only other option is to grit their teeth and buy up our Gilts! I’d rather they didn’t TBH. I would prefer our trade to balance.

  • Peter,

    exporting countries don’t need to spend there surplus on jet engines from RR or on expensive Scotch whiskies. Their sovereign wealth funds, firms and investors can and do buy up railways, utility companies and other infrastructure, as well as private company acquisitions, companies securities and real estate in London and elsewhere. The return on these real investments is generally far greater than paper gilts and is represented by real wealth.

    Investments in Gilts continue as long as confidence in sterling is maintained. A loss of confidence in the past has seen a run on sterling and balance of payments crises. even with a fiat currency. This is the whole basis of sound money policy. There is no developed economy that is not heavily engaged in International trade and capital flows, so the concept of a closed economic circuit without an external sector is not a reflection of reality, unless you are looking at the world economy as a whole.

    Within a domestic economy the various stocks of wealth and flows of income and spending have distributional impacts. If the government and household sectors are net borrowing and firms and the external sector are net saving, then capital is being accumulated by firms and overseas investors. The ratio of income from capital to wages increases steadily, the relative % of income from wages is eroded and inequality increases as we have seen in recent decades.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '17 - 8:26pm

    @Joe Bourke,
    There’s plenty I could say in reply – like that we shouldn’t be quite so accommodating- but I think we’ve moved too far away from the original subject which was cuts to children’s centres.

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