Toddlers picket Tower Hamlets mayor over rocketing rents for their nurseries
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Mayor John Biggs got as shock when he turned up at the town hall today to be confronted by banner-waving toddlers lobbying him over council rents at their nurseries.
Three-year-old Alkina Cook stepped forward and handed him a petition that her mum and hundreds of parents from Tower Hamlets nurseries had signed.
The mums and dads are fighting to stop rents rocketing at 10 community nurseries and pre-schools, after the authority announced bringing in commercial rates for all council premises to bring in revenue from the booming East End commercial property market.
Community groups, however, have been promised an 80 per cent discount—but the not-for profit nurseries somehow have been excluded from the deal. Nursery fees would rocket to cover the rent, they fear.
“They see us as private ventures, which isn’t the case,” protest organiser Kate Gould, who chairs Bethnal Green’s Scallywags nursery, told the East London Advertiser.
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“We are completely different from private nurseries—we’re a non-profit service to parents, so I hope the mayor reads our petition and talks to us.”
The nurseries are soon getting notices from the towns hall’s Asset Management department with their new rents which they say will make it impossible for many low-income mums to keep their children in pre-school education.
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Alkina’s mum Caroline Hendry, a meditation teacher from Bethnal Green looking to return to work, forks out £250 a month as it is—but won’t manage the higher charges.
“Raising the fees by five times would be prohibitive,” Caroline said. “This would throw our pre-school into the realm of private nursery.
“All the parents at Scallywags do shifts one day a week helping to run nursery. That builds a sense of community.”
She is one of the 40 who volunteer to help run the parent-partnership nursery near Victoria Park to keep fees affordable.
The nursery pays £4,800 a year rent to the council—but estimates this could rise to £25,000.
Mayor Biggs explained to the mums: “We have to act in a way that’s not anti-competitive. The challenge is the nurseries being part of the (property) market place, even though some may be not-for-profit.”
But he promised: “We have to find a way where we’re not seen to provide subsidised rent to one group of people and not to another. We think there might be a way of doing this, but need to get proper legal advice on how.”
The nurseries have been told that getting the 80pc community discount would conflict with State Aid rules—but campaigners point out that the nurseries only get government funding for 38 weeks a year, yet pay staff for 45 weeks. Many staff usually do extra unpaid work to prepare toddlers for school.