Children are starting school in nappies and unable to speak, while others returned from lockdowns with American accents due to watching YouTube videos, Halton councillors have been told.

At a meeting of Full Council recently, Cllr Geoff Logan – himself a teacher by profession – told members that more needed to be done nationally to help improve the life chances of children starting school following swingeing cuts to services.

The borough recently opened its first ‘family hub’ in Widnes. The borough was one of 75 areas in the country to share just over £300m to develop the programme, which bring together a range of services to support families with children and young people aged 0-19, or up to 25 years with special educational needs and disabilities. They offer services such as parenting support, help with language development, advice on debt and housing.

But Cllr Logan said the project has been described by some as a 'pale immitation' of Labour's own Sure Start programme.

First unveiled by then Chancellor Gordon Brown in 1998, Sure Start Children’s Centres brought together health, parenting support, childcare and parental employment services into a ‘one-stop shop’ for families with children under five. But spending has since fallen by more than two-thirds as many centres have closed, been scaled back or integrated into family hubs.

At the meeting at Runcorn Town Hall, the Labour Councillor for Norton North, Cllr Logan - who is also chairman of the council's Children Young People and Families Policy and Performance Board - told members: “There are 75 family hubs, but thousands of Sure Start centres have closed. We are one of the authorities lucky enough to have family hubs.

“We've got to make sure that we utilise those family hubs so that we are helping the poorest, most vulnerable to have a sure start in life, because at the moment, there are children who are starting school still wearing nappies.

“Once  upon a time you couldn't start nursery if you were still wearing nappies. Children are starting reception with speech problems. Some of them can't speak."

He added: “I personally have knowledge of children who returned to school since the various lockdowns and online sessions with American accents, because they spent a lot of time watching video games and watching videos and YouTube videos which are all done with American accents and their voices have changed.”