Chairman of Stevenage charity Tracks Autism says ‘crazy government policy’ could force closure

Chairman of Tracks Autism, Mervyn Terrett, is calling for financial help from the government.

Chairman of Tracks Autism, Mervyn Terrett, is calling for financial help from the government. - Credit: Archant

A specialist early years centre for children with autism is struggling financially following funding cuts, and is desperate for a change to government policy which currently prevents public funding.

Tracks Autism, on Boulton Road in Stevenage, provides one-to-one education for autistic children from across Hertfordshire and has Ofsted’s highest rating of outstanding.

In 2012, Herts County Council withdrew the independent charity’s nursery grant credit - which had funded 26 per cent of its costs - as a change to central government policy meant facilities charging top-up fees, as Tracks does, were ineligible.

Tracks has to raise £80,000 a year through fundraising and donations. The charity’s chairman, Mervyn Terrett, said: “We don’t get a penny of public money and it’s been a struggle.

“We are living hand to mouth. We have got seven months of funding, then we would have to shut.

“It’s a crazy government policy. It needs a secondary piece of legislation that lets specialist providers like Tracks have access to funding despite parental contributions. We are not going to ruin the UK with what we are asking.

“Our patron Baroness Howarth took it to the House of Lords, but they are sticking to their guns.”

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He added: “This is an essential service for children with autism and provides them with the best possible start.”

Trustee Mike Shaw added: “Because of the high ratio of staff to children we need, there has to be parental contributions towards our costs.

“I just feel for parents. They are having to pay a sizeable contribution towards their children’s care that could be offset by nursery grants.

“Unless we can find funding from elsewhere we are going to struggle going forward. It’s getting harder and harder.”

Teresa Heritage, Cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: “The law prevents us from funding providers for free early education places unless the service is offered free at the point of access to parents.

“Unfortunately Tracks does not feel able to comply with this central government-applied condition, therefore we are unable to fund them.”

The Comet asked the Department for Education to comment but we have not received a response.

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