- Campaigners from Tower Hamlets and Nottingham join march in Salford
- Birmingham closures on hold
Campaigners across the country are joining forces to fight the closure of council-run and community nurseries, with a rally in Salford on Saturday (27 October) uniting members of the Save Our Nurseries campaigns in Tower Hamlets, Salford and Nottingham.
Meanwhile, after lobbying the council and a petition signed by more than 1,500 people, the GMB union and campaigners have secured an eight-week pause on Birmingham City Council’s plans to privatise its 14 community nurseries.
The council agreed earlier this month to consider plans put forward by the GMB, which has been working with stakeholders to identify practical and sustainable alternatives to privatisation.
The move opens up the prospect of a 12-month trial for the alternative proposals and the reversal of the council’s decision.
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Stuart Richards, senior organiser, GMB Birmingham and West Midlands Region, told Nursery World, ‘We fully understand the huge pressure facing councils after eight years of drastic cuts to funding. However, as the trade union for nursery workers, we know that this provision is vital.
‘We’re still in discussions with the council, but we remain committed to pursuing all available options to keep Birmingham’s community day nurseries going.’
Campaigners in Tower Hamlets, London have been granted a possible lifeline in their fight to save the borough’s remaining council-run day nurseries.
Last week, the council’s overview and scrutiny committee endorsed a ‘call-in’ signed by five Labour councillors questioning the executive mayor’s decision to close Overland nursery in Bow – which provides specialist support for children with deafness and autism, the John Smith nursery in Whitechapel, and the Mary Sambrook nursery in Shadwell.
The endorsement of the call-in allows the decision to close the three nurseries to be considered by the council’s legal and monitoring officers. If the officers believe the closure decision contravenes the council’s policy framework, it will be referred for reconsideration.
A spokesperson for the Save Our Nurseries campaign, Candace Reading, said, ‘We are not giving up. We really see the value in these nurseries and nothing has been put in place to replace them.
‘The integrated support provided in conjunction with neighbouring Children’s Centres at John Smith and Overland meant specialists could co-ordinate early intervention for vulnerable children. There are over 100 children on the waiting lists for these nurseries, many of whom have additional needs, now with nowhere else to go.
‘Our campaign will continue and we are joining forces with other campaigns around the country, including Salford, Nottingham and Birmingham, whose nurseries are threatened.
‘We are looking to meet more people campaigning for their nurseries and who feel their nurseries may be under threat.’
Members of the the Salford Save Our Nurseries campaign outside Parliament earlier this year
As well as parents and staff joining the rally taking place on Saturday, Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley and Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, and a representative of the UNISON trade union, were confirmed to speak at the event.
All five council-run day nurseries in Salford have been under threat of closure since February as the council looks to plug an early years services budget gap of £1.75 million.
Mayor Paul Dennett agreed to extend council funding for the nurseries until August 2019, but cited funding cuts and changes to the Dedicated Schools Grant as reasons he could not commit to securing their future beyond this.
The Salford Save Our Nurseries campaign has included a 1,000-strong march through the city, a meeting with MPs in Westminster and a discussion with the children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Campaigners said the rally provided a good reason to bring different groups together.
Spokesperson Lee Shannon said, ‘When we met with Nadhim Zahawi in May, one of the things he asked was, “Why only Salford?” In Salford we were able to mobilise a campaign very quickly, but it is actually an issue affecting all local authority day nurseries because all council budgets have been cut.
‘We do have a lot of support nationally and we are looking to join together with all nurseries who are under similar threat of closure or financial pressures. Some, like Tower Hamlets, are in an even worse situation than us, and it all hinges on what we can get from central Government.
‘Nursery schools have supplementary funding until 2020, so we are trying to join with them to be part of that funding and help them in their fight to secure further funding beyond that time.’
The most recent consultation by Salford City Council proposed devolving its nurseries to local schools or other providers. The consultation closed on 18 October.
The Salford Save Our Nurseries campaign said it is ‘open-minded’ on this option but that ‘Plan A’ was still to get sufficient funding from central Government to keep the nurseries run by the council.
The campaign has called for ten conditions to be met by any proposals made for the future of the nurseries, including: that the nurseries must remain in the public sector and at their current locations; staffing ratios, structures, access to training and terms and conditions must not be altered; the nurseries must maintain their existing opening hours and not move to term-time-only; and that there should be no reduction in support for children with additional needs.
If the outcome of the consultation is not acceptable to staff and parents, the council must commit to at least a further 12 months of funding until August 2020, campaigners say.
Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, praised the work of Salford’s Save Our Nurseries campaigners. ‘This has been one of the most successful and effective campaigns in the whole of the country to protect vital services for children,’ he said. ‘This has shown the strength of parents, councillors, trades unions and MPs working together.’
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has also added her support to the campaign. ‘Salford’s nurseries provide a vital service to children and parents across our community, transforming the lives of the next generation by guaranteeing them an excellent education when they most need it,’ she said.
The Salford rally was due to be attended by members of the Nottingham campaign to reverse the decision to close a nursery based at Nottingham College in Basford.
The Once Upon a Time Nursery was closed at the end of July after a college board vote of seven to two in favour following its ‘consistent underperformance against budget’, despite appeals from Nottingham City Council and MP for Nottingham North Alex Norris.
Mr Norris said, ‘Good nurseries are a key part of helping our children get the best start in life. When an incredibly valuable nursery like Once Upon A Time is closed at the Nottingham College campus in my constituency as part of a meagre cost-cutting exercise, it’s very disappointing.
‘The nursery was incredibly popular – which our campaign against the decision showed – and provided parents in my area somewhere they were beyond happy to send their children, and I’m sure parents all over the country have shared our disappointment as similar nurseries have closed their doors for the same reasons.’