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Strike threat over plans to privatise Tower Hamlets council children’s nurseries

PUBLISHED: 12:41 28 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:41 28 March 2017

Angry parents picket Tower Hamlets council over nursery privatisation threats

Angry parents picket Tower Hamlets council over nursery privatisation threats

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Council staff running children’s nurseries in London’s East End could take industrial action if plans to privatise Early Years services go ahead.

Unison's Tower Hamets general secretary John McLoughlin addressing nursery protestersUnison's Tower Hamets general secretary John McLoughlin addressing nursery protesters

The warning comes this week from the Unison trade-union following a deputation of mums to Tower Hamlets council.

The authority is looking at long-term ideas for outsourcing the service which was agreed February’s budget meeting.

But parents turned up with their children to plead at last week’s council meeting for a change of heart.

“We support the mothers’ petitions against the privatisation,” Unison’s Tower Hamlets general secretary John McLoughlin told the East London Advertiser.

Even children join mums' protest colouring in plackardsEven children join mums' protest colouring in plackards

“The fight isn’t lost. The budget said the council would explore the possibility of outsourcing these nurseries. But we are determined that doesn’t happen. We can stop it.”

He warned: “We will be looking at industrial action, which we would only take to support the parents as a last resort.

“But we’re not at that stage yet. We hope we can stop this before we need to take action.”

Staff at the nurseries which also run special needs care say they have been told very little about the future of their jobs.

The children's message to Tower Hamlets council about their nurseriesThe children's message to Tower Hamlets council about their nurseries

They fear being transferred to an outside provider would mean “worse employment conditions”.

One mother in last week’s delegation, Nouruja Rahman, told councillors: “These nurseries are part of our community. We are pleading with the mayor to overturn this idea of outsourcing our nurseries.

“Think of the children—they are our future.”

The mums are suggesting ways of making nurseries “pay for themselves” rather than handing them over to private companies.

These would include holiday clubs to earn revenue when the nurseries are not being used.

The three nurseries being reviewed faced closure three years ago, when Lutfur Rahman was mayor, but were saved by an Opposition Labour campaign.

Now the threat was back, with Labour having won back control of the council in 2015.

Independent opposition People’s Alliance group leader Rabina Khan, who was out with the mums collecting signatures for their petition at Bethnal Green station last week, said after the council meeting: “Labour campaigned with parents when they were in opposition and rightly brought it to the council—we listened as the previous administration and kept the nurseries open.

“So I’m baffled and don’t understand why they would then go against their pledge. I’m astonished that we’re in this position now.”

The Labour mayor’s three-year budget aims to “look at the possibilities” of running the nurseries by outside contractors to save costs—with a pledge that they are not closing.

But one of the four nurseries that was saved in 2015, Queen Mary’s in Bromley-by-Bow, has now been closed. The mums fear ‘privatising’ the remaining three—Overland, John Smith’s and Mary Sanbrook—could lead to their eventual closure.

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