Save Sheffield Early Years centres

Sharron Milsom

Around 100 parents and children under 5 arrived from Tinsley Green children’s centre. Another 50 joined the protest from Darnall Community Nursery.

In total at least 250 protested outside Sheffield Town Hall against the Labour council’s planned slashing of Sure Start children’s centres and nurseries.

The council is aiming to cut £3.5m from these centres. Currently there are 36 centres, all Ofsted registered and providing childcare, health, education and family support. All would be downgraded.

Instead the aim is to have 17 children’s centre ‘areas’, with each area having only one nursery. The council calls its proposals a ‘redesign’ and incredibly has claimed that the service will improve, reaching more children.

Yet, at the same time, it blames the government for forcing the cuts on it – thereby implying that the service will suffer.

19 of the 36 centres have been earmarked for closure. Five of the seven centres that received an ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted last year are amongst those under threat.

Many nursery workers and parents have been told that their centres will be closed by March 2013 at the latest.

Yet the council is saying that there will be no closures. What it means is that it will use all the sites for something – it’s just that 19 of them won’t have childcare services!

Parents’ anger

So it’s no surprise that parents don’t agree that the plans represent ‘a similar but more flexible service’.

Their children face losing their nurseries and they face losing the childcare which enables them to work or attend college.

Parents on low incomes will not be able to afford the fees charged by private nurseries. Also, such nurseries are absent from low income areas as they don’t have enough better-paid parents to make them profitable.

The anger at the proposals was clearly shown at the protest with loud chanting and an array of homemade placards.

Parents and workers signing the petitions on our Socialist Party stall were outraged at what was happening.

A boy of about three years old who stood close to our stall, called through a loudhailer held by his parent “Save our Nursery! Save our Nursery!” over and over again.

200 parents and children then packed into the Town Hall to attend the council cabinet meeting considering the issue – which had to be moved to another room to fit everyone in.

Emma Chadwick, whose three year old autistic son attends Darnall nursery, presented the 1,500 signature petition to the meeting.

But she did not leave it with the councillors – instead the campaign is to continue with the petition, with the aim of reaching 5,000 signatures and triggering a debate at the full council meeting.

Cuts ‘approved’

The councillors were heckled with ‘You should cut your wages’ and ‘We don’t accept these cuts’. But they provisionally approved plans to cut £6.8 million from the early years’ budgets including the £3.5 million from childcare centres.

They have confirmed that 50 jobs at the children’s centres will be lost – though staff at the centres say that 150 are under threat.

The plans were approved subject to consultation. This is interesting as previously the council has claimed that 700 people had already been consulted whereas the nursery workers, parents and trade unions pointed out that there had been no such consultation.

Sheffield City Council has already slashed council spending by £140 million over the last two years and cut 1,400 jobs.

Labour leader Julie Dore has called the Coalition’s planned future cuts “the end of the council as we know it” – yet Labour still plans to pass on these cuts.

We must not let them. Workers, their trade unions and communities must fight for every job and every service.

A Save Sheffield Early Years public meeting is to be held on Wednesday 19th December, 5pm-7pm at the GMB offices on Norfolk Street (between Post Office and Brown’s Bar), Sheffield City Centre.