£2m 'slash and burn' nursery cuts condemned

PLANS to cut £2 million from Sheffield nurseries and children's centres have been condemned as a 'slash and burn' policy that will leave large parts of the city with no childcare services at all.

More than 100 nursery managers and staff unanimously rejected the council's proposals at a packed meeting at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane ground.

Officers want to target reduced Government funding at the city's neediest youngsters and their families - which they admit could lead to nurseries increasing charges and cutting opening hours.

As a result of opposition at the meeting councillors have agreed to look again at the plans - with alternatives to be presented by the end of the month.

Chrissie Meleady of the Community Childcare Forum, which represents seven community-run nurseries in areas like Handsworth, Sharrow and the Manor, said the plans would decimate high quality local services developed over decades.

She said: "We've told the officers to go back to the drawing board and think again.

The council had strategy and consultation groups on these issues but they decided to bypass them all and go it alone, coming up with these proposals and giving us only two days' notice.

"Our community nurseries are the frontline services that are most visible to vulnerable families and are used and trusted by them. The changes risk far more vulnerable families slipping through the net."

Childcare providers at the meeting argued some nurseries would go to the wall if the funding changes were implemented.

Elaine Bennett from Tinsley Green Nursery said: "We see vulnerable and disadvantaged families every day and carry out vital work. This service would be lost and additional burdens placed on the system if these cuts go ahead.

"Our service is very well used and our parents already pay market rate for the service they receive. A major issue is that we have to pay 100,000 per year to the local authority to be in this building. Parents on low incomes would have to pay astronomical fees to cover this cost."

Sally Pearse, project manager at Tinsley Green, said the proposals had not been properly thought through.

She said: "The council has been selective about which parts of the spending review it quotes to justify these appalling cuts. It needs to look closer to home at the services it has expanded that do not meet community needs and at its own layers of bureaucracy rather than slashing frontline services."

Coun Colin Ross, Cabinet member for children's services, said the council would now look at other proposals.

He said: "Clearly there will be less money available but we will give nurseries time to adjust. But everything must be settled in time for the budget settlement on March 4."

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