Mums and dads armed with babies spilled out of the main room into the hall. The public meeting for the proposed closure of Salford’s local authority nurseries was so packed that the room could not contain everyone.
The building echoed with the sound of babies wailing and laughing, mixed with a tense murmur of voices; parents waiting in anticipation for what local councillors and Unison had to say about the decision to close 5 local nurseries.
Over 200 hundred people attended the meeting, including council leaders and Salford’s Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey.
“It’s important for the councils to see the people it’s affecting”, one mum told me, “it’s not just names on a list and numbers on a spreadsheet”.
Salford council have proposed a 90 day “consultation period” to discuss the proposed closure of five local nurseries proclaimed Outstanding by Ofsted.
But now parents and UNISON are demanding the consultation period to be delayed while a campaign to save the nurseries is taken to Westminster.
Many issues were raised during the two hour meeting chaired by UNISON- from council funding, to alternative solutions, to the central government’s austerity measures.
Winton Day Nursery, Barton Moss Day Nursery, Little Hulton Day Nursery, Belvedere Day Nursery and Higher Broughton Day Nursery are all at threat.
They provide places for more than 300 children and employ more than 100 staff.
Perhaps the most powerful moment was when mum Kirsten Hayes, whose child attends Barton Moss nursery, stepped forward and delivered an emotional speech.
On the brink of tears, she said:
“The most heartbreaking thing has been how the nursery workers haven’t even been concerned about their own jobs, they’re concerned about our children.
“What I want to know is how in Salford, when we’ve got Salford Quays, Media City, BBC, Coronation street…. how have we got to this point where we have one side of Salford with so much money and on the other hand we’re going to cut money to children that need it? It’s not right”.
City Mayor Paul Dennett blamed the nursery closures on Tory austerity measures and a “privatisation agenda”, stating:
“If you look up and down the country a lot of local governments have already closed their authority run nurseries.
“Westminster have changed the formula at a national level with the Direct Schools Grant and one of the reasons I think is because they believe in the privatisation of nurseries.
“It’s very much part of the privatisation agenda they are pushing”.
Since 2010 Salford Council have lost over £1.8 million of its revenue budget and 47% of its funding.
It must save £11.2 million over the next year – the equivalent of £60,000 a day.
When asked about the potentially growing divide between the richest and poorest communities in Salford, Mr Dennett accused the government of using the growth of Media city and Salford businesses as an opportunity to take “even more out of the city of Salford and decrease funding”.
Cast members of Coronation Street such as Catherine Tyldesley have signed the petition to save Salford’s nurseries, which has already gained over 4,500 signatures.
Labour councillors have reportedly been “in tears” this week over the proposals to close the nurseries.
Mum, Kirsten Hayes said: “I don’t know what I’ll do with Bonnie if the nurseries close. I don’t know whether I can carry on working. I’m on a low income. I also don’t think I can trust anyone else with her.
I picked Barton Moss because all of their workers are first aid trained. It feels like you’re leaving her with family. I trust them”.
Unison officer Ameen Hadi said he’s confident that they can get the council to withdraw the consultation.
He said: “They’re clearly trying to avoid it today and came in with a line that they’re going to campaign themselves, but actually this is the campaign and they have to listen to what the people have said to them today”.
Hadi proclaimed the people will not work with the council unless the consultation is withdrawn or delayed.
The City Mayor denied that the consultation period was a “sham”, as suggested during the meeting, and that no final decision to close the nurseries has been made.
He said: “I can’t really prejudge the result of the consultation.
“The point is to sit down with all interested parties and try to find solutions to this problem, and I’m optimistic given the passion and enthusiasm in the room today.
“This is all driven by central government and we can’t forget that”.
If the council do not withdraw the consultation, UNISON pledge to lobby the Labour party on the 26th and council meetings on the 28th of February.
The petition can be signed at http://https://www.change.org/p/salford-city-council-save-salford-council-s-five-outstanding-nurseries