The nurseries provide a high-quality service in some of the poorest areas of the city, and parents are determined to keep them open. The campaign brings together parents and local supporters, the Kashmiri Women’s Council, the unions – GMB, Unison, NEU-NUT – the Trades Council, Birmingham Against the Cuts and People’s Assembly. Leaflets have been given out to parents and signatures collected on each nursery’s petition, as well as on the GMB’s online one. Council-run consultation meetings are now taking place at each nursery, and parents are speaking out against the Council’s plans.
The nurseries are threatened with closure because they run at a loss – predicted this year to be £600,000. The Council proposes three options:
- close all that run at a loss;
- close them all and offer the buildings to private providers;
- close them all except ones where there is no suitable alternative provider in the area.
What the campaign says
Only one nursery doesn’t make a loss. Can the other 13 be saved by making savings to break even? There are certainly some savings to be made which don’t risk the quality of provision. Some savings involve scrapping rip-off city-wide contracts that the Council has made, for example for cleaning – instead of each nursery employing local cleaners – and maintenance – one nursery was recently charged £500 for mending a fan. These contracts should be terminated, just like the Council did with Capita. There are also savings specific to each nursery, too many to list here, but one example is a nursery building which is half-empty because other Council services have left. Why not rent it out now to generate income?
But these savings on their own are unlikely to be enough to save all, or even any, of the nurseries.
Hand the nurseries over to private providers. There are plenty of them, and the Council has actually already planned what it calls a ‘Market-Shaping’ event – – more like a pre-Auctioning-Off – with potential buyers. A likely date is 15 March. But there is a problem: the private providers are in business – even if they call themselves charities to gain the tax breaks – to make money not lose it. If the nurseries run at a loss now, how will the private providers make a profit? Answer: by employing fewer staff, less well-paid staff (perhaps on less than the living wage) and less well-qualified staff. In contrast, the Council nurseries employ well-trained and well-qualified staff.
This is unlikely to save any nurseries – perhaps one or two at best – because there are many alternative providers. Having said that, the Council does not even insist that they would have to be of equivalent quality to the Council nurseries.
Challenge the way the Consultation frames the issue – call for an increase the Nurseries Budget to save the nurseries
At each Consultation meeting the officers frame the issue solely as one of balancing the books of the existing Nurseries Budget. Every nursery must break even, they say. The survey questionnaire that they give to parents – it’s online too – does the same. There are just the three options listed above. But the campaign is arguing for a fourth option: increase the Nurseries Budget.
The nurseries could continue to run at a deficit. That’s not unusual – many Council services do. For example, the parks aren’t expected to ‘break even’ – they are regarded as a vital public service. So should the nurseries be. But if the books have to balance the answer is for the Council to increase the Nurseries Budget to meet the deficit.
We recognise that the Government is making more cuts every year in its funding to Birmingham, and that’s where the blame ultimately lies. But even so, the Council has choices to make over how it spends its money. The shortfall is £600,000, but the Council’s total controllable budget – that is, the amount it can decide how to spend – is £1 billion. The Nurseries budget represents just 0.08% of that – a drop in the ocean. The Council could save that just by some efficiency savings elsewhere in its budget. (Not to mention not wasting £6 million on the disastrous decision to try to defeat the refuse workers.) It’s a question of political priorities and the values of the Council, not just book-keeping. Children are one of the top priorities in Labour’s manifesto for the May council elections in Birmingham. Closing the nurseries of the most vulnerable is clearly completely incompatible with that.
Already a few Labour councillors and candidates in the May elections have come forward and opposed the closure plans, starting with Waseem Zaffar in Lozells. In the coming weeks parents and supporters will be putting pressure on the councillors, and Cabinet members Carl Rice and Brigid Jones, to abandon the closure plans.
When are the Consultation meetings?
Below are lists of Consultation meetings at the nurseries, and the wards they are in. Five have already taken place, with angry parents speaking out:
Birchfield – 18 Jan
Golden Hillock – 22 Jan
Cherry Tree – 23 Jan
Kitts Green – 24 Jan
Lime Tree – 25 Jan
The immediate priority now is to make sure all campaign leaflets have been given out at all the rest of the nurseries, signatures have been collected on the petitions, and the consultation meetings are well-attended.
Oaklands – 30 Jan 6-8pm
Park Road – 31 Jan 6-8pm
Reameadow – 1 Feb 6-8pm
Soho – 5 Feb 3-5pm
St Benedicts – 6 Feb 3-5pm
Summerfield – 7 Feb 3-5pm
Sunshine – 8 Feb 5-7pm
Ladywood – 12 Feb 9.30 – 11.30am
Bertram – 13 Feb 6-8pm
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Join our campaign on Facebook – com/savebirminghamnurseries
- Leaflet a nursery – If you need leaflets or petitions email Richard.Hatcher@bcu.ac.uk
- Sign your local nursery petition and the online petition at GMB – Save Birmingham Nurseries
- Email your councillor and go to Ward Committee/Forum Meetings
- Go to the Council Nurseries Consultation meetings and speak out against closure
- Raise the issue in your community organisation, political party and trade union
- Come to the next Campaign Planning Meeting – email firstname.lastname@example.org for details
|Bordesley Green||St Benedicts|
|Lozells and East Handsworth||Birchfield, Cherry Tree, Lime Tree|
|Nechells||Bertram, Golden Start|
|Shard End||Kitts Green|