Parents of nursery school pupils protested at a Tower Hamlets council meeting last Wednesday afternoon (March 22) in a bid to stop the privatisation of three local nurseries.
As The Guardian previously reported, the move to privatise and close down maintained nurseries is a national trend. Research for an all-party parliamentary group has found that more than one in ten maintained nursery schools that offer education for vulnerable children from ‘difficult and deprived backgrounds’ are facing closure.
There are only 400 maintained nurseries in England, which are under threat due to the government’s 30-hour free childcare plan.
Following an outcry, the government has found an additional £56m in transitional funding for the next three years to try to ease the crisis. Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs describes this as a “progressive and compassionate” budget.
The privatisation of John Smith Children’s Centre, Overland Children’s Centre and Mary Sambrook Day Nursery is concerning Tower Hamlets’ residents as these cuts can affect parents’ ability to work and, subsequently, the children’s wellbeing.
The nurseries under threat include two that cater specifically for children who are deaf or have other special educational needs.
According to a report of the Tower Hamlets council meeting: “Over 10,000 people signed various petitions related to the cuts to Children’s Centres, Careers Services, and Youth Centres and against the privatisation of Tower Hamlets Nurseries.”
A group of parents created the ‘Save our Nurseries’ project and were at the Council’s meeting to present a petition to protect the borough’s valuable public services instead of privatising it.
— Neil Cafferky (@neilcaff) 22 March 2017
— Neil Cafferky (@neilcaff) 22 March 2017
Neil Cafferky, a local resident who has been working with Tower Hamlets Socialist Party to convince the council to set a No Cuts Budget, told Eastlondonlines: “The cost of private childcare in London is astronomical. If the nurseries are privatised many working-class mums will be forced to give up their jobs as the weekly fees will cancel out their wages.
“The council say they have no choice but to pass on the cuts from central government but I don’t agree. Councils should set ‘No cuts’ budgets and use reserves and prudential borrowing power to protect services.”
— TUSC (@TUSCoalition) 22 March 2017
As reported before, Tower Hamlets has the worst child poverty rates in Britain – four per cent of children in the borough were living in poverty in 2015 – four per cent higher than any other local authority in the country.
Talking to ELL, Natasha Hurley, member of Tower Hamlets Green Party and candidate for the 2018 council elections, said: “Privatising the three remaining Tower Hamlets nurseries would seriously impact the lives of the most vulnerable children in our Borough.
“Under the Council’s plans, we predict that the quality of service would be drastically reduced, while the costs to families would increase. Experience shows us that the privatisation of public services almost always pushes up costs and drives down quality in the long run.”
“It’s widely acknowledged that early year’s care is crucial in terms of determining children’s development and achievement later in life.
“This kind of short-term thinking is storing up problems for the future, and risks provoking a crisis in our community.”
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Women’s March told ELL: “The action of LBTH Labour MPs and Councillors has been shameful on this issue.
— TowerHamletsWomen (@THWomensMarch) 22 March 2017
“We were shocked to hear Labour Councillor David Edgar claim that the private sector can do a better job running nurseries than our own skilled Early Years staff.”
“Tower Hamlets suffers 49 per cent child poverty and it is obvious that disabled children and low income parents and carers will be the ones who pay with a reduced quality of service.
“Local authority nurseries legally have to follow higher standards; this is the only reason that private or voluntary services providers are able to claim they can run services at a lower cost.”
“Parents and carers are rightfully concerned that ‘re-providing’ is shorthand for running services on the cheap and excluding disabled children and low income families to make a profit.
“These plans for privatisation have been set in place with no public consultation.”
According to the same council’s meeting report mentioned earlier, Mayor John Biggs is “compassionate” and met with all the petitioners who represent over 10,000 people in Tower Hamlets to find “progressive” ways of ensuring these vital services are protected.