Public consultation into plans to close council-run nurseries in Tower Hamlets to be extended

PUBLISHED: 13:37 12 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:37 12 July 2018

Picket outside Tower Hamlets' cabinet meeting in 2017 at launch of campaign against nursery privatisation or closures. Picture: Mike Brooke

Picket outside Tower Hamlets' cabinet meeting in 2017 at launch of campaign against nursery privatisation or closures. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A 28-day public consultation into plans to close all three council-run nurseries is to be extended following complaints that it was too short.

Last night at Tower Hamlet Council’s overview and scrutiny committee the cabinet agreed to lengthen the time frame as they “recognised that the school holidays will make it difficult” for affected parents to have their say.

Under the controversial plans Mary Sambrook Nursery would close at the end of August, John Smith Nursery in December and Overland Nursery, which has a specialist deaf unit, in 2019.

However the consultation’s extension means Mary Sambrook could stay open beyond its proposed closure day.

The council argues that the nurseries serve fewer than 100 children but it is costing over £1million a year to keep them open and there is no other option but to close them.

The committee met last night after the decision to consult on closing the borough’s three day nurseries, made by the Mayor John Biggs and his cabinet on June 27, was ‘called in’ by Labour councillors.

Councillor Gabriela Salva Macallan, who was one of five Labour councillors to call in the decision, said: “We feel these three sites justify having more options.

“The services have been run down.

“We know there are waiting lists for these nurseries. These are sites that people want to use.

“What we are asking for in the call in is that parents would know where they are with their children and staff would know their job is secure.”

Councillor Danny Hassell, speaking in defence of the cabinet’s decision, insisted that the nurseries were not financially viable.

He added: “The pressure on school budgets is so much that they are unable to continue with this provision.”

However he acknowledged that the consultation period the council had proposed was short adding that the cabinet were “happy” to extend the time frame because of the school holidays.

The idea to close the council-run nurseries was first proposed in 2014 by disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Councillor Marc Francis, scrutiny committee chair, noted that Cllr Hassell described the proposal as “vicious” when he was in opposition at the time, and asked “what’s changed?”

Cllr Hassell said: “We have more child places in the borough now. We didn’t have all the information then. We have much more information now.”

However he was not able to say how many of the child places in the borough, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, were as affordable as the council-run nurseries.

Cllr Francis said: “Affordable childcare is one of the biggest barriers for parents.

“I was utterly shocked at the price of two days a week for my son when he started at nursery.

“The council cannot offer low cost childcare to every parent that needs it but we can set a benchmark.”

He said the committee would be sending the decision to consult on the closures back to the mayor for further scrutiny, suggesting the consultation scope be broadened to include more options and the time frame be extended.

He added: “We would not be fulfilling our duty and he would not be fulfilling his if we did not take another look at this.”

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