Thursday, 20 September 2007

Huddersfield - Victory! Campaign saves nursery

I decided to publish this article from this weeks issue of the Socialist becuase, if you have being reading my blog you may remember i blogged about my involvement with this group and stuff (articles are scattered throughout but A Different Kind of Stall was the first and there were various other posts on the local elections which covered the campaign too).

LOCAL PARENTS, their children and staff at Tiddlywinks Nursery in Huddersfield are celebrating a victory in reversing Kirklees council's decision to close it down. Back in February, the Director of Children's Services announced her intention to close the workplace nursery without consulting or discussing with parents or staff.

Mike Forster
Given just three weeks to launch a counter-offensive before the recommendation was endorsed, campaigners had, within a week, held a meeting of 50 angry staff and parents pledged to fight the council and organised a lobby of the town hall.

Such was the campaigners' determination, a huge wave of opposition to these plans swept through Huddersfield with huge press coverage, thousands of signatures being collected and children, staff and parents besieging the Tory council boss in his own council chamber. This forced the council to concede a review of their decision with officers instructed to look more closely at their recommendation.

The campaign group knew they would need further massive pressure to force any concession. Two town centre demos were held. The media took up the story of women fighting hard to save their nurseries.

All these parents go out to work for a living and desperately need good quality, affordable nursery care for their kids. The council is in effect saying that they will have to settle for private sector provision if they want nursery places. Huddersfield people understood that this was another form of backdoor privatisation and clearly said, enough is enough.

One local parent, Mel Mills stood in May's elections as an independent candidate on the Save Our Services ticket to highlight the nursery's plight and to maintain the campaign's momentum. She secured over 5% of the vote in a hectic three-week campaign, beating the Green Party candidate!

Tiddlywinks Nursery is in Huddersfield's Ashbrow Ward where there is higher than average unemployment and poor housing. As Mel commented, working parents will not be able to go out to work if their local nursery is closed, thereby exacerbating already high levels of deprivation.

Predictably, the review produced nothing new. The council officers still insisted the nursery should close. The council leader had to present the review's findings to an angry crowd of around 100 parents, staff and children. He asked for a response within five weeks. The campaign then produced a forty-page rebuttal of every single argument of the council.

Parents had also demanded that the Scrutiny and Overview Committee examine in more detail the officers' recommendation. That meant yet more uncomfortable headlines for the council as parents, staff and the UNISON union tore into these proposals.

Clearly the council were looking for a way out. And intense lobbying of all the party bosses on the council, made them decide to back down. The Children's Services director still wants to see the nursery shut, but she was overruled by politicians who did not want to be labelled as the council that shuts working parents' nurseries.

Last week, the council leader called an emergency press conference to announce that Tiddlywinks was saved. The campaign is disappointed, however, that two other nurseries will still be shut, leaving only one workplace nursery for the whole town. A rearguard action is still being waged to at least try and save one more.

However this is a significant victory. A Tory council has been forced to back down by an intense and determined campaign, helped by Socialist Party members in Unison and by our local councillor, Jackie Grunsell, who was the main voice of opposition on the council.

Mel told the socialist: "I am absolutely delighted that our nursery is staying open. This will send a clear message to people in Ashbrow that we can save local services. It will help people understand our campaign. It makes it even more important that I stand again in the elections again next year because they won't stop here.

"They are already talking about school closures, but they will not ride roughshod over us. I am sad that two nurseries are set to close, but we haven't given up the ghost yet and I intend to see this through to the end."

Campaigners will attend this week's cabinet meeting to try and force another concession, but whatever happens, they can be proud of what they have achieved.

1 comment:

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