Two Bexhill nurseries may have avoided the threat of immediate closure as East Sussex County Council looks at maintaining their funding for another year.
On Monday (October 7), the council’s lead member for children’s services Sylvia Tidy is set to decide on whether or not to continue subsidising two Bexhill nurseries – Cygnets, in Egerton Road, and Rainbow, in Ninfield Road.
The council began consultation on proposals to withdraw its subsidy of the two nurseries earlier this year, as part of a wider set of changes intended to save £2.6m from the authority’s children’s services budget.
The proposals, however, have proven to be controversial with Bexhill residents, who raised fears for the future of the nurseries – both rated as outstanding by the education watchdog Ofsted – should the council subsidy cease.
According to council papers, the objections from residents included a petition signed by more than 1,119 people. In light of these concerns, council papers say, the authority intends to continue subsidising the nurseries for a 12-month period.
In a report to be discussed at Monday’s meeting, a council spokesman said: “Due to concerns regarding the two Bexhill nurseries, the council has agreed to provide this service until September 2020, at a cost of £0.02m, to minimise the disruption experienced by children and families.
“After September 2020, nurseries in Bexhill would no longer be operated by the Council, which would instead work with other providers to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, sufficient nursery places in the area.”
The report goes on to say this process may include sub-leasing the spaces currently used by the Rainbow and Cygnets nurseries to other nursery providers. This would be on the basis that there would not be ongoing financial or other direct responsibilities for the council.
The report also says it may be necessary to review closure of the nurseries, should the development of alternative provision in Bexhill prove impossible.
Despite signs of a change in course for the council, for campaigners the new proposal does not go far enough to protect the nurseries in the long term.
The campaigners include Rother District councillor (and cabinet member for Bexhill affairs) Christine Bayliss, whose Labour group were behind the petition opposing the original proposals.
Cllr Bayliss said: “The provision of affordable high quality child care is a key element of our strategy to create well-paid jobs in Bexhill. We are very disappointed East Sussex are ploughing ahead with privatisation.
“We predict this will result in lower quality service, an increase in fees and ultimately increase greater dependency on benefits. It seems austerity is still driving public services cuts in East Sussex”.
Cllr Bayliss also confirmed that campaigners would be holding a demonstration outside County Hall ahead of next Monday’s meeting.
The changes to the nurseries subsidy comes as part of wider changes to East Sussex County Council’s Early Help strategy.
Under the revised strategy, 14 centres around the county will no longer be designated as children’s centres, although the county council says it will work with partners to identify an alternative provider of early years or education services to take over 10 of these centres.
Rooms at three centres based in externally owned buildings – Heathfield, Newhaven and at The Bridge in Hastings – will remain available for hire to provide services as needed, the county council says, while Hampden Park children’s centre will close with services moved to Shinewater children’s centre.
In a press release, Stuart Gallimore, director of children’s services at East Sussex County Council, said: “The proposals we are putting forward will help us target support to more than 2,100 families at risk of crisis each year, and around 500 vulnerable young people, and continue to offer support to all families of pre-school children.
“The draft strategy was drawn up following an extensive review of how we deliver services.
“We are grateful to all of those who have given feedback during the consultation period, which has helped us finalise proposals to concentrate on services for the most vulnerable.”