Mayor faces hostile questions over Tower Hamlets cuts to children's services
PUBLISHED: 09:12 03 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:22 03 February 2017
Campaigners launching a joint strategy last night to protect child services against cuts in London's deprived East End gave the Mayor of Tower Hamlets a tough time when he turned up at their meeting.
John Biggs faced a barrage of angry questions over moves towards privatising children’s nurseries like the council’s flagship Overland pre-school and other Early Years services which face scrutiny at his cabinet meeting next week.
He arrived at the campaign strategy meeting of local groups and council workers held at Shadwell’s Care House community centre after learning from yesterday’s East London Advertiser about the gathering.
“The mayor came to hear the people,” campaigner Dr Ella Finer said. “But I wish he had been more in conversation with us instead of just giving blanket statements about the services we’re trying to protect.”
The meeting spearheaded by her ‘Expand Not Extinguish Children’s Centres’ group voted to merge all the local campaigns in nurseries, youth and careers services and children’s centres into one fighting alliance.
These groups include the mothers reported in the Advertiser launching their own campaign last week to save three council nurseries which only just escaped closure two years ago, including the Overland in Bow which was selected in 2011 to launch a national strategy on tackling child abuse. A fourth council nursery, Queen Mary’s in Bromley-by-Bow, was closed last year after the council claimed there was asbestos in the building.
“There was a council report after the last wave of cuts that said it can’t happen again,” Dr Finer pointed out. “The services were already crippled and close to breaking point—but yet it’s happening again. This is going to affect so many families in deprived areas that the services will never recover.”
Mothers at last night’s meeting spoke of hardships if council nurseries are privatised, like Magda Martinez from Stepney Green, struggling on a hospital nurse’s salary.
She told the paper: “We have a five-year-old in nursery, but wouldn’t make it if it’s private. We worked it out that it would be cheaper for my partner not to work than to have to pay private nursery fees.”
One man spoke of the council’s youth careers service which got him “a life chance apprenticeship” in a bank which led to his “high-ranking job” in The City. He was scared that young people today would not have that same chance.
‘Expand Child Services’ campaigner Deepa Neika insisted: “There’s no justification for these cuts to the most vulnerable people—it’s an ideological agenda to privatise the entire Early Years services to make money for businesses.”
The campaign alliance now plans to lobby the mayor’s cabinet meeting next Tuesday and to send a delegation to the full council meeting at the Town Hall on February 22 when Tower Hamlets debates its budget for the next three years.