"The staff, union members, parents and the community will keep on fighting together to keep this service. And we will win..." Anika
At an emotional, and sometimes angry and tearful meeting this afternoon, staff, families and people from the community voted overwhelmingly to take on Salford's Labour Council unless its consultation on the closure of five local authority run nurseries - due to run from 26th February until 28th May, and after the local elections – is stopped.
Hundreds of people, many with their children, packed Hemsley House on the Crescent, to hear speeches from the unions, nursery staff, parents, councillors, City Mayor Paul Dennett, and Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey.
The room heard impassioned pleas from nursery workers, including Anika, who recalled "Hearing that the Council proposed to close our five nurseries was really disappointing; to think that our provision could so easily be disposed of...
"Each of our centres support rising numbers of children with special educational needs...our concern is that these children will not thrive without the support from our nurseries" she added "The staff, union members, parents and the community will keep on fighting together to keep this service. And we will win...You can't put a price on what we do for these children."
Elizabeth Longwill, whose daughter attends the threatened Barton Moss Day Nursery, underlined the sentiments, insisting "We should not have to accept that things will get progressively worse; once these services have gone they won't be returned and we will have lost the central fabric of our community.
"Some people say that things aren't getting worse, 'Look at Salford now compared to how it was ten or twenty years ago', and the Council says on its website that this is a thriving city" she added "But all those shiny buildings and statements are an empty promise if we don't support the community that live here for future generations."
Another parent also drew the comparison... "In Salford we've got Salford Quays and Media City, and we've got the BBC" she said "How have we got to this point when we've got one side of Salford that's got so much money while on the other we're taking away care for children who need it most?"
And a woman whose granddaughter has down's syndrome and attends Little Hulton Day Nursery added: "She's got nothing in Salford to help her except the nursery... What's going to happen to her? Where are they going to put her next? There's nothing else in Salford for down's syndrome children. We need this nursery to help children like my granddaughter."
Another woman, whose son has multiple health issues, was too overcome with emotion to actually talk but handed her speech to someone else to read out... "Taking his support away will be absolutely detrimental and devastating to my son and all disadvantaged children. If people think closing the nursery for children who can't fight for themselves is an easy choice then I hope the decision makers are able to sleep at night."
The decision makers were present at the meeting in abundance, each - rightly so - putting blame for the change of policy that won't allow the Council to fully subsidise its nurseries onto the Tory Government. They pleaded for a joint campaign against Government austerity that united the Labour Council, the nursery workers, unions and community...
Pledging to support the campaign to keep the nurseries open, Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, explained that "We have a Government that does not believe in the public provision of services to our community. They want to privatise things and want to ensure that they are scaled back as much as possible, which is why they are not giving local authorities, NHS and our wider public services the money they need to provide even the most basic things.
"I'm sad to say that this campaign will be the first of many over the next few years because it's going to get significantly worse if the projections that the local authority have shown me are going to be realised" she added "We've got to stand up and make sure we fight as a community and that we're not going to take this lying down."
... "But it's the Labour Council that is closing the nurseries..." came a heckle...
Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, was also interrupted during his plea for unity to fight the Tory Government...
Explaining that there was a £6million overspend in children's services as an impact of austerity, Dennett said that the city couldn't use any more reserves because "the auditor tells us that we need around £11.5million just in case of a big accident, a flood, or a huge overspend..."
... "Do you mean like closing five nurseries?" came a response from the back of the hall, to much amusement...
"We need to get together and fight it" he continued "This ninety day consultation with parents, with people who work in nurseries, with the trade unions, is about coming together to look for solutions and challenging the reality of austerity and local government cuts. We really need to join together on this..."
"...But you're making the cuts..." said another heckler who was threatened with being thrown out...
"The point has been made that the Labour Council is making the cuts" Dennett responded "But since 2010 the Tory Government has taken £186million off Salford City Council; 47% of our budget has gone. That is decimating services and jobs in this city. I genuinely believe that a consultation is not a sham, it is a genuine consultation to look at options with anyone...We will work with anyone to look for options to save these outstanding nurseries."
UNISON's Ameen Hadi argued that there couldn't be a genuine joint campaign with the Labour Council and Mayor to save the nurseries with a consultation in progress on their closure initiated by that same Mayor and Council...
"The two things can't happen" he insisted "The Council should withdraw the consultation and then fight with us to fight for the money...Unless the Council withdraws the threat of closure and the consultation then we have to lobby the Labour group and Council on February 26th. They can find the money short term while we get a campaign together to fight the Government. They need to listen to the people..."
Children's Services Lead Member, Lisa Stone, however, had insisted that the consultation went ahead... "We really, really want to work together to find an option to keep these nurseries open" she said "...We want to work with residents, parents, staff and unions to try and come up with ideas, alongside a campaign that this is unacceptable....We have to go through this consultation..."
A vote was taken on three proposals from UNISON and one from Lisa Stone...The proposal to continue with the consultation appeared to only be voted for by Labour Party councillors and the City Mayor.
The proposal to 'delay any consultation or alternative proposals and use that time to campaign for the money we need, and we should all stand together to demand that money' was passed overwhelmingly by almost everyone else in the hall.
There were two other proposals also passed by the meeting... That there should be a campaign in each of the five nurseries, with an overarching campaign body. And that 'Unless the Council withdraws the threat of closure and consultation, a lobby of the Labour Group and the full Council meeting on February 26th will take place'.
Earlier, Andrea Egan, from Bolton UNISON, had told the meeting how the union, staff and community had recently forced Bolton Council to do a u-turn over the closure of the well-loved local authority run Harvey Nursery...
"From the first meeting it was 'We're not having this and we're going to fight it'" she recalled "We moved quickly...there was a passion and determination, and they'd picked on the wrong group of people. We all knew about the cuts, we were all living with them, but we were clear that these are political choices. We knew the Council was strapped for cash but we said 'Go and take it from somewhere else, you're not taking our nursery!'.
"We went into overdrive on social media and Bolton Trades Council gave money for the campaign" she added "And we said to the Labour councillors 'You are there to do a service for us, and sometimes we think you forget that'.
"When your back is up against the wall you have nothing to lose" she insisted "They are taking what you need away from you, so you can either sit back and do nothing, or else you can fight. We all had one objective to keep that nursery open...if you fight you can win this."
And that, basically was the theme of the entire afternoon meeting; from Ameen Hadi's opening statement that "'Enough is enough'... We will make sure that this city gets the message that these nurseries will not close..."
For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...
Salford Nursery Closure Fightback Begins – click here
Over 100 Workers Could Lose Jobs in Salford Council Nursery Massacre – click here
To sign the Save Our Salford Nurseries Petition - click here
Photos by Steven Speed
Main photo shows vote to delay the nursery closure consultation