Council nurseries consider charging parents of funded twos for meals

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The last remaining council-run nurseries in Bromley are under threat of closure, because the local authority says it can no longer afford to run them.

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Vision Community Nursery in Bromley, in one of its most deprived areas, is one of two remaining council-run nurseries that could close

The London Borough of Bromley says that the current income generated by the two nurseries, based on charges to parents and free early years education funding, does not cover the costs of running them.

Options being considered include bringing in charges for meals and consumables, something which many private and voluntary settings are already considering in order to make ends meet once the 30 hours comes into force in September.

Parents at the Community Vision and Bleinheim Nurseries – both based on children’s centre sites - have been sent letters notifying them that the Council’s Executive Committee will be considering a report on the nurseries' future in October.

The council is asking for views on three options, which will be put forward to councillors, and is asking for comments by 28 July. One option includes increasing charges to fee-paying parents and also charging parents who access funded places to pay for meals and other extras, including parents of disadvantaged two-year-olds.

The letter sent to parents says, ‘The current income generated by the nurseries, based on charges to parents and free early years education funding, does not cover the costs of running them. The result is a combined excess cost of £348,000 currently funded by the council. At a time of continued pressure on council budgets to support statutory services for children’s social care and education, this is not sustainable for a non-statutory service, particularly where other options for childcare are available.'

The letter says that options include ‘continued delivery by the council by raising fees to cover the cost; market testing to find alternative providers, again at an increase [sic] cost; or to close the nurseries and signpost to other nurseries where places are available’.

It continues, 'If the council or another provider continues to run the nurseries, the increase in charges to fee paying parents and guardians are likely to be substantial to enable the costs of delivery to be met. For those parents who access the nurseries through the funded places for two-,three- and four-year-olds this could mean the introduction of charges for meals, refreshments and other consumables as the council can no longer subsidise the running of the nurseries as it has done in the past.'

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Parents from the Community Vision Nursery in Penge have set up a campaign group (pictured) to save the nursery, which they say is an essential service for the community.

According to the campaign group the adjoining children’s centre has already had its funding cut and they are concerned about the viability of the whole site if the nursery is closed down.

Bleinham Nursery in Orpington is the second nursery under threat and is based at the Bleinheim Children and Family Centre.

Community Vision has been a nursery for more than 30 years and moved into the new children’s centre building when it was built during an early phase of the development of Sure Start Children’s Centres.

Community Vision has 58 children on its books and there are more than 100 children on the waiting list.

Sam Russell, whose two-year-old son is on the waiting list for the nursery, is organising the campaign to save it.

Parents are querying the £348,000 deficit figure quoted in the letter, which has not been explained.

Mr Russell claimed that even if the nurseries close, the council will still have to budget for £176,000 in costs associated with the buildings, which he said meant that the overspend directly attributable to the services is £172,000, or £86,000 per site.

‘For the sake of £86,000 the council is losing a brilliant nursery. The council has 100s of millions of pounds in reserves. When you're asking parents which month you want the nursery to close it implies the decision has already been made.'

The letter sent out to parents includes a question about their preferred closure date of either April 2018 or July 2018, should that be the 'preferred option'.

Catherine French, whose two children attend the Community Vision nursery, said, ‘It’s just an amazing place. It’s a complete tragedy if they close or privatise it. I was devastated to get the letter. There doesn’t seem to be an accountable and transparent decision-making process to explain why he review is happening now, and no recent audit trail in the council’s education select committee work plan or minutes for anything related to the threat of closure.

‘Community Vision should be celebrated as a jewel in the crown of early years provision in Bromley rather than be under threat of closure. The nursery staff have all been there a long time and given so many children a great start to life. They’re a great team and they understand the needs of the local community. It’s one of the most deprived wards in the borough, an area in most need.’

Campaigners say that there are parents that only access the funded hours who would not be able to use the nursery if they had to pay for meals and extras.

Parents are also concerned about the timing of the consultation, with the consultation letter sent out just two weeks before funded children break up for summer and during a time when many families are away on holiday.

A spokesperson for Bromley Council said, ‘No decisions have yet been taken about the future of either the Community Vision or Blenheim Nurseries.

‘The council regularly reviews all its spending and, in light of the excess cost to council tax payers of £348,000 per year to run these nurseries, we are examining alternatives for the future. Through a letter to parents and carers, the council is seeking views which will be reflected in the report to the Executive so they can be taken into account when a final decision is reached in the autumn.’

Nursery World asked the council to confirm the number of funded places for disadvantaged two-years-olds, and three- and four-year -old places, at each nursery but the council was not able to tell us the figure.

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