Last Saturday, a meeting attended by hundreds of people, including Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, heard Salford Mayor, Paul Dennett, and Children's Lead Member Lisa Stone, propose that a consultation should begin concerning the closing of five of the city's OFSTED rated outstanding nurseries. Hardly anyone at the meeting voted for that motion.
Instead, a counter proposal was overwhelming passed, calling for the consultation to be stopped, and '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' (see previous Salford Star article – click here)
Two days ago, this will of the people was ignored as the Council issued a press statement confirming that a "ninety day consultation will run from 26th February until 28th May…and that if a 'cost neutral solution' couldn't be found the nurseries would close".
Children's Lead Member, Lisa Stone, was quoted in the press release, saying that it was "a direct result of Government changes, which reduce the use of Dedicated Schools Grant."
Then, the Department of Education told the Salford Star that the Council could have applied for 'increased flexibility' in the Grant's use – and that Salford Council hadn't actually requested any 'increased flexibility' (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
The Star added that the revelation was bound to increase pressure on the Mayor to halt the consultation until the Council had at least asked the Government for 'flexibility' and received a reply.
This afternoon, in the face of growing anger from the community, that pressure told, with a humiliating climb down, as the u-turn was announced that the consultation had been put on hold for a month.
"City Mayor Paul Dennett says he's responding to calls from parents and staff, at a public meeting coordinated by Unison, and the pause will allow the council, trade unions, local MPs and parents and staff who would be affected if the nurseries had to close to lobby the government for funding to keep them open and under local authority control" the press release stated.
"I have written to the Government to raise the funding issues and the severe impact on services which are facing unprecedented demands on the residents of our city" Dennett added "I have asked for them to review this funding shortfall."
Angry parents, grandparents and staff working at the nurseries will want to know why the Mayor hadn't asked the Government to 'review this funding shortfall' before proposing to close the nurseries.
Lisa Stone adds in the press release that "I know this is a difficult time for parents and staff but it's important that we support the passion they have shown for the nurseries and use that to convince the Government to think again and provide the funding we need to keep this excellent service open."
...The problem is that, as of two days ago, the Government hadn't actually been asked to 'think again'.
The press release adds that a "campaign will be launched at full council on Wednesday 28th February when the Council confirms its budget for next year".
Meanwhile, the Salford Star has emailed the Department of Education to ask if it is indeed willing to be 'flexible' on the use of the Direct School's Grant. As yet, no reply has been received.