Parents and supporters fighting to save Salford Council's five OFSTED-rated outstanding nurseries are expressing concern about the involvement of ruling Labour councillors and City Mayor, Paul Dennett, in the campaign.
Almost two weeks ago, a huge meeting of parents, nursery workers, unions, and activists voted that 'Unless the Council withdraws the threat of closure and consultation, a lobby of the Labour Group and the full Council meeting will take place'. (see here)
In the face of such vast opposition, the City Mayor did a u-turn and delayed the closure consultation for a month while he asked the Government "to review this funding shortfall"; which hadn't been done before the closure proposal was announced. (see here and see here)
Tomorrow morning at 8:30am there is to be a Save Salford Nurseries protest outside the Civic Centre but, the Salford Star understands, councillors from the ruling Labour group that is proposing the nurseries closure will be joining the 'protest'.
Furthermore, tomorrow night, there will be a campaign meeting of representatives from the five threatened nurseries where the City Mayor and 'supportive councillors' will be present...
"The mood at that [public] meeting, as expressed in the vote at the end, was to have a campaign independent from the Council that is proposing to close the nurseries" wrote one campaigner on social media "The idea that the Mayor, Paul Dennett, and 'supporting' Councillors will be central to deciding the plans of the campaign at its first meeting is in my opinion very worrying."
Another added that "the original motion voted on was 'Unless the Council withdraws the threat of closure and the consultation'. The threat is still there, the Council is only postponing the consultation by a month...They have not promised to fight these closures, only to look good in the press by standing alongside the campaign while at the same time still scheming to close the nurseries!"
What is clear is that by forcing local authorities to hand more money to 'other providers', all this is part of a Tory Government privatisation push. Or, as Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey pointed out at the public meeting, "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..."
That said, however, Salford Council also has political choices to make. As part of its budget this year, no money for cash-starved public services has been taken from reserves, which currently stand at £13.2million (not the £11.5million quoted by the Mayor at the public meeting).
Within the reserves budget for 2018-19, between £500,000 and £700,000 has been stashed away for 'Government Specific Grant Reductions'. Which is exactly what the five nurseries funding crisis is, in effect. Why, parents and staff might ask, is the Council not just using such reserves now to save the nurseries?
Maybe campaigners can ask councillors and the Mayor when they join them on the protest against closures tomorrow morning.
The Funding Mess
The Salford Star has got Government figures and Salford Council figures surrounding Early Years funding and funding for three and four year olds – and they just don't match...
Salford Council states that in 2016-17, its 'three and four year old free entitlement funding was £12.18 million', and that it 'retained £2.3million to pay for delivery of our local authority early years services'.
For 2017-18, the Council adds, the Government funding for three and four year olds is £14.1million. However, because of a change in the formula for the funding, it now has to spend 95% of this money on other providers (£13.395million), meaning 'we now can only currently retain £705,000'. The Council expects the same in the next financial year. And that this is where a £1.595million shortfall stated by the Council comes from.
However, in response to the Salford Star last week, the Department of Education stated that in 2017-18 the Council had to pass on 93% of the funding to providers, and from 2018-19 it will be 95%. So, for 2017-18, based on official Council figures, it could retain £860,000. Someone is 2% out, or £155,000.
Meanwhile, for all Early Years Funding, the Department states that the full figure is £17.9million in 2017-18, increasing to £19.4million in 2018-19. On these figures, if the Council has to pass on 93% of this funding to providers in 2017-18, it gets to retain £1.253million, and 95% of the funding in 2018-19, or £970,000.
The figures just don't match. Who is right? Who is wrong? No idea because the Department of Education hasn't returned calls, and Salford Council hasn't responded to Salford Star questions for over five years. So there is no way the finances can be properly scrutinised by the Salford Star.
Finally, the five nurseries themselves have run at a deficit for the last two years, according to Council figures posted on its website - £1.38million in 2016-17, and £1.292 in 2017-18. Yet the Council is quoting a shortfall of £1.5million – that is also £200,000 out. No income and expenditure projections have been posted for the next financial year 2018-19, which are the basis of the Council proposed closure.
Either way, isn't it the purpose of local authorities and public bodies to subsidise these sort of services, particularly nurseries that are looking after some of the most vulnerable children in Salford?
Update: 28th February: Salford Mayor and Deputies Drive Save Salford Nurseries Campaign - click here