Salford City Council looks to schools to take on its nurseries

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In a bid to save its five day nurseries from closure, Salford City Council is proposing schools and other providers take over their running.

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The Save our Nurseries campaigners at Westminster

The council is due to consult on the plans to devolve its nurseries to local schools or other providers this week.

All five council-run day nurseries in Salford have been under threat of closure since February, as the council looks to plug a combined early years services budget gap of £1.75m.

The new consultation is in response to a previous 90-day consultation process on a more cost-effective way to deliver the local authority nurseries, which ran from 26 March until 25 June 2018.

The majority of the 111 responses agreed with the proposal to ‘find a more cost effective way of delivering the five local authority nurseries’.

The council’s conclusion found a school- or education-led provision was the recommended option, explaining schools had ‘seen the value’ offered by the nurseries and were ‘genuinely interested’ in exploring options to support them.

‘This would mean that the LA [local authority] Day Nurseries would no longer be operated and managed by the Council and that a schools/education provider would take over their management and operation,’ the council said in a letter to parents.

The conclusion also mentions, however, that ‘other providers can also be explored’ during the new 30-day consultation, which is due to run from 7 September until 18 October.

In the course of the new consultation, Salford City Council said it hopes to engage with ‘desirable partners’ to deliver nursery services on its behalf, and to ‘understand more fully how this provision will work to support the best outcomes for children and families’, with a view to beginning a tender process based on the results which will take a minimum of three months.

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A spokesperson for UNISON’s Salford branch said, ‘As things stand, the only outcome that would be acceptable to the parents and the staff would be for the nurseries to remain open as council nurseries beyond September 2019.

‘We are completely opposed to privatisation, transfer to the voluntary sector or an employee-owned co-operative because we know that this will lead to worse terms and conditions for staff and worse outcomes for children and families. 

‘We may be willing to consider alternative options that would retain the nurseries in the public sector, but we would not we be inclined to support such an approach unless we felt confident that all possible attempts had been made to secure the funding required to keep the nurseries open as council-run nurseries.’

The Save Our Nurseries campaign, which met with children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi in May  to discuss the issue, has arranged a meeting with MPs at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool later this month.

Lee Shannon of the Save Our Nurseries campaign said, ‘The council doesn’t have the money to fund the nurseries after next year so we have two options. Either funding, like the £55m pot available to nursery schools, has to come from central Government, as it is them who have taken it away, or we have to go with whatever the council comes back with.

‘The consultation will suggest the nurseries could merge with their nearest schools but stay on the same site, so funding will come from the schools instead. Our worry would be that schools don’t have a lot of funding either, and we are concerned that if it doesn’t work they will look to privatise, so we want the Government to make a decision to secure a future for our nurseries.

‘Ultimately, it’s a financial problem created by political decision, and that’s what we’re campaigning to change. We want to change Government policy on early years funding and ensure the long-term future of these nurseries for the staff who work there and the children who attend now and in generations to come.’

Mr Shannon said the campaign was appealing for support from across the sector.

‘One of the things Nadhim Zahawi asked when we met with him was “Why only Salford? If this was a funding problem, why aren’t all local authority nurseries coming to me?” This is why we’re trying to gain support nationally and join together with any nurseries who are under similar threat of closure or financial pressure. We have to prove this is not one isolated case but a nationwide problem. The more support we have, and the wider it spreads across the country, the better chance we have of the Government listening to us and making a decision to change the current funding.’

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