A Brighton nursery looks likely to be closed after a formal consultation with staff and parents was approved yesterday.
The Bright Start nursery in the Old Slipper Baths building in Barrack Yard, off North Road, is expected to close by next April.
A final decision will be made a fortnight before Christmas.
Brighton and Hove City Council runs the nursery which was set up by Brighton Borough Council nearly 20 years ago.
It caters for 73 children aged up to 4 years old.
Although the nursery was set up for the children of council staff, only 43 of the children who go to the nursery have a parent who works for the council.
A council report said: “The nursery is very highly valued by the parents who do use it.
“However, the nursery only benefits a very small percentage of all council employee parents.
“The number of childcare places in the city has increased substantially since the nursery was first opened and many parents choose to send their children elsewhere.”
The report also said that the council subsidy for the nursery in 2010-11 would be £87,000 and that there was a projected overspend of £12,000.
It added that the Children and Young People’s Trust – the council and NHS body responsible for the nursery’s budget – had been asked to save £7.1 million from next year’s budget.
The report also flagged up other cost concerns about the nursery’s premises.
It said: “The building was refurbished in 2006 but needs a substantial capital investment to bring it up to a good standard.
“A feasibility study estimated that the cost would be some £230,000.
“The flooring in the children’s toilets and the heating needs urgent attention.
The estimated cost is £5,000.”
One of the nursery’s staff, Dave Jones, asked how much of the £230,000 the council would spend doing up the building anyway, even if Bright Start closed.
Councillor Vanessa Brown, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, declined to answer the question after taking legal advice.
The report said that where possible Bright Start staff would be redeployed to fill vacancies in other council-run nurseries.
Councillor Brown was also told that government guidance requires councils not to run childcare unless no other person is willing to provide it or it is for a particularly disadvantaged area.
Unison, the union representing staff at the nursery, said that fees should go up to cut the subsidy.
It also pointed out that because many of the staff had long service the cost of redundancy pay-offs would be substantial.
It also pointed out that the taxpayer could well be footing a bill for benefits for any of the staff who had to sign on after the proposed closure.
It said that two city centre nurseries – in Western Road and Regent House in Dyke Road – had closed at short notice with the loss of 112 places.
But, it said, the 120 new places created by the opening of Supersaurus were in Hove. Supersaurus is in Cromwell Road.
The council staff using Bright Start live in central Brighton, central Hove, West Hove, Hollingdean and Moulsecoomb, according to the council report.
Yesterday the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas visited the nursery to offer support to the staff.
She also wrote to Councillor Brown – Conservative – before the meeting, which was held to decide whether to consult staff and parents about the proposed closure.
Ms Lucas said that Bright Start “is one of the most respected nurseries in Brighton”.
In her letter to Councillor Brown she said: “This excellent nursery provides vital child care places in the city centre, not just to council staff, but to many community users too, in an area of the city that is otherwise poorly served.”
She criticised the timing of the proposed closure, saying: “Even at this young age children are already affected by the school year.
“Closing the nursery in April would place the children in an extremely difficult, unsettling and upsetting situation.
“Even assuming that the children can find another nursery place, which is by no means certain, those in their final year before starting school would have to leave a place they are familiar and comfortable with for a new and unfamiliar setting, only to find that a few short months later they are uprooted again when they start school.
“It is hard to conceive of a more disruptive start to a child’s education and would in my view be a failure of your duty of care to the city’s children.
“Please reject the recommendation.”
Her plea failed and Councillor Brown accepted the report’s recommendation to carry out a consultation with staff and parents on the closure of the nursery by next April.
A number of parents of children at the nursery attended the meeting – at Hove Town Hall – and have set up a campaign to save the nursery.
After yesterday’s decision, one of the campaign’s organisers, Liam Sheerin, said: “Thanks to everyone who made it to the meeting.
“That was an excellent show of support, one that I doubt they were expecting.
“Unfortunately, Vanessa Brown saw fit to approve the recommendation for consultation on the closure of Bright Start nursery.
“This does not mean that the nursery will close but it does make it a much stronger possibility.”
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