On Saturday 27th October, hundreds of people attended a rally called to find a long-term solution to the threat facing five Salford Council-run nurseries.
Parents, children, staff, unions and politicians all came together to demand that the Government make good on its promise to guarantee the future of nurseries at Little Hulton, Winton, Barton Moss, Belvedere and Higher Broughton.
The nurseries, all rated Outstanding by Ofsted were threatened with closure earlier this year when Government cuts removed their funding. In response to the launch of a public campaign to save them, Salford Mayor Paul Dennett agreed to find a further £1.5m to keep them open until at least August 2019. However, there are no guarantees of their future beyond that date.
The rally was addressed by Labour’s Shadow of Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner, herself a former UNISON Convenor and somebody who, as a pregnant 16 year old had to rely on such services,. She stated:
“I was given those opportunities through the local authority and through the state maintained nursery that I attended, and I think that every single child deserves that opportunity.”
Also in attendance were UNISON’s North West Convenor Paula Barker, as well as local MPs and Shadow Cabinet members Rebecca Long Bailey and Barbara Keeley,
Barbara told the assembled crowd:
“At the budget on Monday the Chancellor could save our nurseries. Simply he could just change back the way that early years funding works, or he could put more funding into early years nurseries, and there’s been a lot of pressure in Parliament to do that
“…If austerity has ended there is no reason for them to cut or change the funding for early years” she added “We keep hearing that the Prime Minister says that austerity has ended, so let’s get back to the funding we used to have…What help have we been offered through all the meetings, the petitions, through all the work we’ve done? So far, nothing that helps Salford find an answer to this funding problem.”
Salford Mayor Paul Dennett promised he would continue to try to find a solution, but stated that without sufficient Government funding this may not be possible. In response, Salford City UNISON Branch Secretary, Steve North thanked Paul for his decision to put in a further £1.5m this year, before adding how important it was that the council continued to fight with the union and parents to keep them open.
“The Council had a choice back in March as to whether we would be standing together in the way we ended up doing or standing against each other” he said “The Mayor and councillors took the decision to put the funding in to keep the nurseries open for a further year…Since then we have all stood together fighting the Government, and we want to keep that going for as long as possible, that’s the hope and the intention.
“We, the union, the workers, the staff, the parents and community will continue to fight for these nurseries” he added “…and I hope we don’t get to a place where that breaks, like unfortunately in Tower Hamlets where the people are having to fight the council and the Mayor. We don’t need that division…we need to stick together with the unity of saving these nurseries because that’s what brought us all out…”
Speakers attended from Tower Hamlets and told the crowd how difficult they had found it to convince their elected Mayor to even try what Paul Dennett was doing. They called what Salford was doing “an inspiration”.
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the speeches from UNISON members employed at the nurseries, led by Broughton Manager Val Worrall and Lee Shannon, a parent of a child at Broughton who has convinced MPs from Salford and beyond to initiate a parliamentary campaign to find funding.
After the event, Salford campaigners met with representatives from Tower Hamlets and Nottingham and now intend to build a national campaign to save nurseries from threatened closures.