In an effort to save its five day nurseries from shutting down, Salford City Council is looking for schools to take over their settings.
Since February, all five of the council-run nurseries have been under the risk of closure as the council struggles to plug an early years budget gap of £1.75m.
The council will now consult on plans to hand over the running of its nurseries to local schools or other providers.
The new consultation is in response to an earlier 90-day consultation, which ran until June 2018, on a more cost-effective way to deliver the local authority nurseries. Overall, out of the 11 responses received, the majority agreed with the proposal to ‘find a more cost-effective way of delivering the five local authority nurseries’.
The council’s conclusion found that a school- or education-led provision was the suggested choice, explaining schools had ‘seen the value’ offered by the nurseries and were ‘genuinely interested’ in discovering more options to support them.
The council wrote in a letter to parents: “This would mean that the LA [Local Authority] Day Nurseries would no longer be operated and managed by the Council and that a schools/education provider would take over their management and operation.”
The council is also exploring the possibility of using other providers during the new 30-day consultation which will run from 7th September .
Salford City Council said it hopes to engage with ‘desirable partners’ in the course of the new consultation.
A spokesperson for UNISON’s Salford branch said, “As things stand, the only outcome that would be acceptable to the parents and the staff would be for the nurseries to remain open as council nurseries beyond September 2019.
“We are completely opposed to privatisation, transfer to the voluntary sector or an employee-owned co-operative because we know that this will lead to worse terms and conditions for staff and worse outcomes for children and families.
“We may be willing to consider alternative options that would retain the nurseries in the public sector, but we would not we be inclined to support such an approach unless we felt confident that all possible attempts had been made to secure the funding required to keep the nurseries open as council-run nurseries.”
In May, the Save Our Nurseries campaign met with childcare minister Nadhim Zahawi to talk over the issue and have agreed a meeting with MPs at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool later this month.
Lee Shannon, part of the Save Our Nurseries campaign, said, “The council doesn’t have the money to fund the nurseries after next year so we have two options. Either funding, like the £55m pot available to nursery schools, has to come from central Government, as it is them who have taken it away, or we have to go with whatever the council comes back with.
“The consultation will suggest the nurseries could merge with their nearest schools but stay on the same site, so funding will come from the schools instead. Our worry would be that schools don’t have a lot of funding either, and we are concerned that if it doesn’t work they will look to privatise, so we want the Government to make a decision to secure a future for our nurseries.
“Ultimately, it’s a financial problem created by political decision, and that’s what we’re campaigning to change. We want to change Government policy on early years funding and ensure the long-term future of these nurseries for the staff who work there and the children who attend now and in generations to come.”
Lee Shannon added that the campaign was appealing for support from across the sector:
“One of the things Nadhim Zahawi asked when we met with him was ‘Why only Salford? If this was a funding problem, why aren’t all local authority nurseries coming to me?’ This is why we’re trying to gain support nationally and join together with any nurseries who are under similar threat of closure or financial pressure. We have to prove this is not one isolated case but a nationwide problem. The more support we have, and the wider it spreads across the country, the better chance we have of the Government listening to us and making a decision to change the current funding.”