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Mums picket as Tower Hamlets mayor says ‘yes’ to closing children’s nurseries

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 19:01 29 September 2018

Mums picket Tower Hamlets Council over nursery closures. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mums picket Tower Hamlets Council over nursery closures. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Angry mums have vowed to fight on after the mayor of Tower Hamlets agreed at last night’s cabinet meeting to close council-run day nurseries.

'Save our nursery' campaigners trying to halt closure of Tower Hamlets Council nurseries. Picture: Dr Anna Livingstone'Save our nursery' campaigners trying to halt closure of Tower Hamlets Council nurseries. Picture: Dr Anna Livingstone

They picketed the town hall in a last ditch attempt to save the Overland nursery in Bow which treats children with special conditions such as deafness and autism.

Another nursery in Shadwell has closed and a third in Stepney is likely to go at the end of the year in a cost-cutting measure—despite a three-year campaign by parents and trade unions.

Mayor John Biggs told his cabinet that he was “unhappy” at the prospect of closing nurseries, but was forced by government cuts to make a budget that was legal.

“A combination of deep government cuts to council funding and a growing population means we have to take very difficult choices,” he said.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs tells cabinet he's forced to close nurseries by government cuts. Picture: Mike BrookeTower Hamlets mayor John Biggs tells cabinet he's forced to close nurseries by government cuts. Picture: Mike Brooke

“We have gone back to see if we can find other ways to keep the nurseries open, but the reality is that this is not possible at this point in time.

“But we’ll make sure anyone needing specialist care will continue to receive it.”

Two mothers with children at Overland nursery addressed the cabinet, Niru Naidu and Nouruja Rahman.

Niru spoke on behalf of the mother of a toddler who has been at Overland since she was 18 months old.

Delegation of mothers led by Niru Naidu (left) and Nouruja Rahman, pleads with the mayor not to close their day care nurseries. Picture: Mike BrookeDelegation of mothers led by Niru Naidu (left) and Nouruja Rahman, pleads with the mayor not to close their day care nurseries. Picture: Mike Brooke

“No nursery schools take on children from that age,” Niru explained. “Little Farah received complete support under one roof from the physiotherapist, the feeding specialist and the teacher of deaf from St Thomas.

“This early intervention to Farah has made a huge difference. She is able to communicate better and gets less frustrated.”

There was reluctance among Labour councillors over the closures, ahead of today’s annual general meetings of the local Labour parties in the two East End parliamentary constituencies.

The prospect of closures likely to be raised by Labour rank-and-file activists resulted in last night’s decision being referred to the council’s own scrutiny committee which meets next week to examine details of the decision.

Labour's Cllr Danny Hassell under fire from mothers at the cabinet meeting over nursery closures. Picture: Mike BrookeLabour's Cllr Danny Hassell under fire from mothers at the cabinet meeting over nursery closures. Picture: Mike Brooke

Campaigners are hoping to get the axe lifted at the meeting and have started lobbying councillors.

Figures quoted over costs of running the day care nurseries have been challenged by the Unison trade union as “wrong and misleading”.

The council ran a public consultation during the summer—but the union claims this was timed when many families were on holiday.

Leaflets didn’t include anything in Bengali which meant many mothers didn’t understand what what implications the closures would have, the mums told the mayor.

The council did have a Bengali translator at one public consultation meeting, Labour’s cabinet member for Children and Young People Danny Hassell told the meeting.

It was Cllr Hassell who moved to stop the same nurseries closing in 2014, when Labour was in opposition during the Lutfur Rahman era. His motion at the time stated: “The services provided by these nurseries to disabled children and their families are especially valuable and unlikely to be provided in the same way by alternative provision.”

Now his report stated that nursery schools would be able to fill the gap.

But campaigners say nursery schools don’t offer the consistent ‘wrap-around’ care that children with additional needs require. They don’t take two-year-olds, they point out, and also only open for limited hours during school term time.

Unison’s branch secretary John McLoughlin urged the mayor back in June against the closures.

But the Mary Sambrook nursery in Shadwell shut down during the summer holiday. The John Smith nursery in Stepney is due to close in December, and the Overland in the New Year.

Three public consultations have been held in four years, each time the council coming under fire by the mothers and trade unions representing nursery staff.

The council’s Early Tears budget caters for 22,000 children under five at £1,700 for every child.

The three day care nurseries receive a public subsidy of £11,000 for each child, which the Cabinet says is “financially unsustainable” with a funding gap that would cause cuts to services.

The day care nurseries have had top-up funding from the council’s schools’ budget, which Tower Hamlets Schools Forum has decided will end this month “given the insufficient numbers of children attending them”.

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