Save Salford nurseries!

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On Friday 9 February, Salford City Labour council announced that it was planning a consultation exercise over the closure of all five of its council-funded ‘outstanding’ Ofsted-rated nurseries in the city. The council is citing a £1.7m shortfall in funding, outside a further £11.2m austerity cuts elsewhere in the city. These nurseries are located in some of Salford's most deprived areas; Salford overall is in the top 10% of deprived cities in England. Just over a week later, at a packed public meeting of over 200 people called by Salford Unison, residents voted overwhelmingly to set up a campaign against the closures.

The meeting rejected a call by Salford's Mayor Paul Dennett, a Corbyn supporter, to participate in a joint campaign with the council against the governments cuts. As Unison representative Ameen Hadi put it, this would be a conflict of interests: there could be no joint campaign as long as the Council proceeded with its so-called consultation exercise on the closure of the nurseries. Over 100 jobs will be lost by such a decision, quite apart from its long-term impact on the children and their families that attend them.  327 children, 87 of them with special needs, attend the five nurseries.

The meeting had opened with short messages from workers in the nurseries. A mother whose daughter attends the threatened Barton Moss Day Nursery condemned council’s plan, declaring '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.' From the floor, numerous parents and relatives cited the social need for these services in a city with growing levels of poverty alongside luxury developments funded by the Council in Salford Quays and Media City. As one parent declared forcefully, 'In Salford we've got Salford Quays and Media City, and we've got the BBC...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?'

Local Labour councillors and Salford Labour MP (and Corbyn ally) Rebecca Long-Bailey attended the meeting alongside the Mayor. Long-Bailey's intervention summed up the two-faced position of the Labour Party. On the one hand she gave a commitment to support the campaign to save the nurseries; on the other hand, she pinned all the blame on the Tory government and like the mayor called for a 'united' campaign against the cuts. Such a call was clearly ridiculous as both Mayor Dennett and Children's Services Lead Member Lisa Stone insisted that the 'consultation' period over the closure of the nurseries would go ahead.

The council’s defence of its actions was no different from the justifications it used to close The Grange, Salford's only home for disabled children in 2017. Like then, Lisa Stone explained how 'The process is ongoing', 'We are looking for solutions', 'No final decision has been made'. Then there was the same meaningless consultation process. Mayor Dennett told us how neither he nor anyone at the Council wanted to see the nurseries closed but 'tough choices' needed to be made, and how 'the nurseries will not be closed, that decision is mine and mine alone'. Again, the same wording he used at the final council meeting when deciding on the fate of The Grange, which he also voted to close. (See: Salford Labour council – public cuts, private profits)

The ninety-day 'consultation' period on the closure was scheduled to begin on 26 February. On 22 February, however, the council announced it would be postponed for a month – a clear concession to the militant mood of the public meeting and the refusal of the audience to join in the bogus ‘joint campaign’ Labour councillors had proposed. Undeterred, however, councillors have decided to join the independent campaign that has been set up. Clearly Dennett and his Labour Party colleagues will attempt to drag it back into the folds of the Labour Party, limiting it to an 'anti-Tory' position to cover up the critical role of Labour in implementing the cuts. We must stop them. Save Salford nurseries!

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