It has to be recognized that cuts to nursery funding is not just an attack on the families who will lose out, or just an attack on those workers who will lose their jobs (or, in some instances, have their nurseries closed altogether). When it means that women are forced back into the home to raise children in isolation it is an attack on a whole community.
Hackney’s nurseries have been under attack this year – not because of Osbourne’s budget, but because the private trust that controls the funding for children’s services in Hackney has arbitrarily cut funding and changed the rules for its distribution. Friends of Hackney’s Nurseries have been fighting to stop these cuts with some success.
The Learning Trust imposed with no notice cuts of up to £50,000 to nurseries commissioning grants. Commissioning grants subsidise childcare places for people on low incomes. To put this in context, it is one of 3 to 4 sets of funding nurseries receive to cover the cost of childcare provision. If there were no grants, childcare would be extremely expensive and out of the reach of most families. As it is the grant that supposedly pays for the basic 15 hours a week free childcare for low income families does not cover the cost of provision – i.e. the nurseries have to pay for some of the free childcare themselves. Put together with the cuts in commissioning grants, affordable childcare in Hackney is fast disappearing.
On top of the cuts – cuts that were imposed with no notice and no consultation, let alone any explanation – the Learning Trust has introduced changes to the rules as to who can apply for the grants. From next year any nursery will be able to apply for them, including the Council’s Children’s Centres that already receive money form both the central government and the Trust – in effect meaning the Trust’s own centres could get one set of grants from the central government and two from the Trust! If this happens it means that there will be more nurseries chasing less money leading to closures and job losses and fewer childcare places.
This is not hype – already workers have lost jobs, and at least one nursery in Hackney is set to close. More are looking to do the same. All this without any explanation or transparency. We are demanding that the Learning Trust open its books and show us where the money has gone and give us an explanation as to what has happened and why. The Trust needs to operate with complete transparency from now on.
Hackney has always been something of a laboratory for New Labour, and the Learning Trust is a perfect case in point. The Learning Trust is the UK’s first private not-for profit company to take over the responsibility of running all education services for an entire borough. With the prospects of more cuts next year, it is imperative that we stand together to demand quality affordable community controlled childcare in Hackney. As Hackney Council takes back control of the trusts given out by central government for children’s services over the next two years, there must be a public commitment to the children and families of Hackney that this sort of arbitrary and unaccountable attack on our services ends. The Trust and the council must recognize that childcare is not a luxury but a fundamental right, and ensure that they are fully funded for all of Hackney.