After all the meetings, consultations, lobbies of Government ministers and marches to save Salford City Council's five OFSTED rated 'outstanding' nurseries, the Council is about to launch a further consultation on devolving them to schools and 'other providers'...
"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" states the Council in a letter to parents.
After a big campaign to save the nurseries following the Council's initial proposal to close them, City Mayor, Paul Dennett did a u-turn and found ?1.5million to keep them open until September 2019.*
Now, a Lead Member for Children's and Young People's Services Briefing is being held on Thursday 6th September to ratify the new proposal, and a long report for the meeting confirms that "The schools/education led provision is the recommended option...
"During the consultation we will hopefully engage with desirable partners to deliver these services on our behalf and understand more fully how this provision will work to support the best outcomes for children and families" it adds.
The option to devolve was put forward by the Salford National Education Union which recommended that 'Little Hulton Nursery to be merged with Peel Hall or Hilton Lane primary schools, Belvedere Nursery to be merged with Lark Hill Primary, Winton Nursery to be merged with Westwood Park Primary and Higher Broughton to be merged with the adjacent Children's Centre or Brentnall Primary. Barton Moss to be merged with its Children's Centre as the school has become part of Prestolee multi academy trust and as an out of authority outfit, could cause legal problems...'
Disturbingly, however, the Council report adds that "other providers can also be explored during this consultation"...
The consultation is due to run from 7th September until 18th October, and follows the previous consultation in which a 41 page report from the management team and staff of the five nurseries cast doubt on the Council's financial figures and statistics justifying any potential closures...
"This year there has been a ?4.5million increase into the early year's budget" it stated "There has also been an 8% increase into the amount of funding allocated within the DSG budget. There also remains 5% left in the DSG grant that could be invested into maintaining the Local Authority Nurseries helping to lower the deficit, making the LA nurseries more affordable. The LA nurseries have not been included in any of the ?4.5million spend.
"...It could be argued that if the Local Authority Nurseries could be afforded for the next two years both political parties are indicating that things need to change in the Early Years and are looking for solutions to the current situation regarding funding and hours of funded places allocated to children" it added.
"We would also like to state that data presented to elected members on 14/2/18 is incorrect" the letter explains "This data only includes children who are currently on role...the children that left to go to school or school nurseries in September 17 (Summer Term) do not show in these figures. This means that there have been significantly more children attending each of the Local Authority nurseries from April to April."
The staff also slate Salford Council's practices that make the nurseries more expensive to run... "We would also like to consider the cost of the food we purchase due to council procurement and consider more affordable options, for example a charge of £10 for a punnet of strawberries is extortionate. If we were able to come off contract a home shopping delivery option could be much cheaper."
The letter pointed to the growth of population in Salford and increasing demand for nurseries, and concluded: "The majority of the people in Salford voted Labour - we ask that you stick to Labour policies and invest in the children and their future as they are the future of Salford..."
The 44 page report to the Lead Member for Children's Services concludes, coldly: "The City Mayor in consultation with Cabinet have considered the outcomes of the first consultation and agreed to proceed with a further 30 day consultation to seek a
school/education based solution to maximise the Local Authority Nursery provision in the City..."
The Salford Star has contacted nursery campaigners and Salford City UNISON for a reaction and is awaiting a response...
Update: 3:30pm - Lee Shannon from the Save Our Nurseries campaign says...
"The second consultation isn't what we want, as we're still pushing for central Government to allocate sufficient funding to our nurseries. I've arranged to meet a group of Labour MPs at the conference in Liverpool in September with the aim of pressuring Nadhim Zahawi and Damian Hinds to make a decision on LA nursery funding and allocate something similar to the £55million a year available for nursery schools.
"I can see why the Council have done this though, if they convert the nurseries to nursery schools they will have access to the transitional funding until the end of this Parliament? he adds ?My concern is that this new consultation will lead to privatisation. My plan is to get as much national exposure and pressure in Parliament as we possibly can, so the Government can't continue to ignore the problem."
Update: 31st August: Steve North from Salford City UNISON says...
“The position of the campaign remains as was agreed during the consultation period, which is: 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 would place these nurseries under the rules of the market and lead to worse terms and conditions for staff and worse outcomes for children and families" he adds "We may be willing to consider alternative options that would retain the nurseries in the public sector, but would not commit our support to any such outcome, even partially without a full understanding of what the details and governance arrangements would be. Nor would 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.
"We have a campaign meeting on Wednesday, which will involve staff, parents, unions, councillors etc. One of the senior Council officers will attend to discuss this new consultation. We will be in a position to comment further after that.”
* For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...
Salford Council To Consult on Nursery 'Alternatives' click here
Salford Council To Keep Nurseries Open for 18 months click here
Photo by Dr Gareth Lyons