More than 600 Sure Start centres for families with young children have been shut or merged since the coalition came to power, according to a Labour Party survey of local authorities released today.
The party claims that as a result of council funding cuts, Sure Start centres have been shutting at the rate of three a week, while many others have been forced to reduce the services they offered.
One in 10 Sure Start centres now provides fewer services than they did in 2010, one in six has seen a reduction in hours and one in five has fewer staff.
While Labour has not committed to providing extra funding to reverse the trend, it said that combining Sure Start centres with community health facilities and working with local councils to design innovative new services would mean their future could be secured.
If the Conservatives are elected next year, Labour claims, more Sure Start centres will shut and only Labour would protect them.
Sure Start centres provide early learning and childcare for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week in the most deprived areas of the country.
Lucy Powell, Labour's shadow minister for Childcare and Children, commenting on the survey, said that while the Tories had promised to protect Sure Start, they had "delivered only failure".
Labour's figures "did not add up", said a Tory party spokesperson. "Just 76 Sure Start centres have closed since the election. The remainder are now serving a record number of families and are reaching more than 90 per cent of those most in need."Reuse content