Council defies Government and closes nurseries

Catherine Gaunt
Thursday, January 7, 2021

Brighton and Hove Council has closed its nurseries to cope with rising cases of Covid-19 across the city.

Brighton and Hove Council has closed its nurseries in the face of rising cases of Covid-19
Brighton and Hove Council has closed its nurseries in the face of rising cases of Covid-19

From today (7 January), all council-run nurseries will be closed to all but vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

The move comes as the Government faces mounting pressure over the decision to keep early years settings open to all children in the latest lockdown, while schools are closed to all but key worker and vulnerable children.

petition on the UK parliament website calling on the Government to close all nurseries and early years settings in the new lockdown to protect early years staff, has so far been signed by more than 55,000 people.

Brighton and Hove Council said that while private and voluntary providers need to make their own decisions, it knows that some have already taken a similar position.

It is urging the Government to provide extra funding for PVI providers to compensate them financially.

The council said it has taken the decision to protect staff, families and children and that it is consistent with the measures implemented by Government for all schools.

There has been a rapid increase of Covid-19 cases across the city and the decision to close nurseries has been taken to help reduce the spread of the disease.

The council said it was very conscious of the impact of nursery closures, particularly for the most disadvantaged children, and was working to prioritise as many places as possible for these children.

In a statement, the council said, ‘We are committed to the full reopening of our nurseries as soon as possible.

‘Private and voluntary providers must make their own decisions about staying open to all children, based on their own current and robust risk assessments. We have full confidence in the Covid management measures taken since March, however the rapid escalation of Covid cases in the city is a significant factor and must be taken into account.’

Green Party councillor Hannah Clare, chair of the children young people and skills committee said, ‘We understand the concerns of our staff regarding the rising infection rates in the city.

‘As a result, we have as a temporary measure decided to move our council-run nurseries to be only open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

‘No one wants to be in a position where our nurseries aren’t fully open. However, to make our community safe, we have taken action.

‘Private and voluntary providers can make their own decisions. We know that some in the city have already taken a similar position. However, this comes at a financial cost to those providers. 

‘As a result, Councillor Allcock and I have written to Government to urge them to compensate early years providers, similar to how they did last year.’

Opposition spokesperson for children, young people & skills committee, Labour Councillor John Allcock, added, ‘The situation that we face is unparalleled, and the lives of children and staff and the wider community including parents, grandparents and carers remains our utmost priority.

‘We know nurseries closing temporarily will be difficult for parents, however with Covid cases rising, it’s essential that we take steps to keep everybody safe.

‘We hope the Government responds positively to our joint request to support early years providers who make a vital contribution to the education and wellbeing of children.’

The GMB Union is urging the Government to close early years settings across the country, rather than leaving it up to local authorities to act.

Stuart Fegan, national officer said, ‘From the very beginning of the pandemic, ministers have neglected the early years sector - missing it from Government communications, excluding it from financial support and from the provision of home testing kits. 

‘Brighton and Hove Council have shown real leadership and taken a decision the Government should already have made to protect people.  But it shouldn’t have been left to councils to step in to address the Government’s failure here. 

‘There is no scientific evidence to support the continued opening of nurseries. It is purely a political decision, made by Ministers who are failing to take their responsibility to staff, families and the wider community seriously enough.  

‘They’ve left nursery staff, childminders and nannies worrying for their safety and sown fear and confusion among parents. 

‘It’s time for the Government to step in and correct this dangerous mistake by closing all nursery and pre-school provision to all but key workers and vulnerable children, in line with school closures.’

On Tuesday, Professor Calum Semple, a leading virologist and member of Sage (the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said that the decision to keep early years settings open 'may be political' as it was not ‘a scientific one’.

However, ministers continue to maintain that it is safe to keep early years settings open and that they are 'low risk environments'.

The Department for Education has said that 0-5 year-olds continue to have the lowest rates of coronavirus of all age groups and that evidence shows that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are not playing a driving role in transmission.

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