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SAVE HACKNEY'S Children Centre NURSERIES, 28.02.24

Hackney Council is proposing to close its council-run nurseries – again! Join the demo with Diane Abbott MP on Wednesday 28 February, 5.30pm

Join the Demo!

Wednesday 28 February, 5.30pm

Hackney Town Hall

Mare St, London E8 1EA

Support on social media:

X (formerly Twitter): @Save_Fernbank and @SaveHillsideN16

Instagram: @SaveOurSebright 

Sign the petition: Please mention if you live or work in Hackney!

High-quality, universal early years education and childcare, undertaken by properly paid staff, is critical to child development and to address Hackney’s high child and in-work poverty, as well as to counter gentrification which has seen low-income families leave the borough. Yet, after cancelling plans to do so in 2021, Hackney Council is once again proposing to close its council-run nurseries.

Fernbank, Sebright, Oldhill and Hillside Children’s Centre nurseries are among those affected by the proposed changes.

The Council plans to either privatise or close Fernbank & Hillside which provide subsidised places for a high proportion of low income parents and children in need.

The first three years of a child’s life is where the biggest impact can be made in terms of health, education and wellbeing outcomes. The Children Centre nurseries provide the only affordable wrap-around nursery places for under threes in the borough – with places for vulnerable children, and fees staggered based on incomes.

The proposals will disproportionately impact women, children, lower-income families, women, lone parent families, and already minoritised groups. The proposals themselves note “a significant number of children accessing children’s centres are of Black and Global Majority heritage, and, or have been assessed as being, in need of early help.”

If they go ahead these plans will see redundancies of experienced skilled early years council staff. Hackney will lose an irreplaceable workforce during a well-documented early years retention crisis, which threatens the deliverability of the Government’s expansion of the 30 hours "free" childcare scheme.

Matt Paul (joint Branch Secretary, Hackney UNISON trade union) has raised that this will impact over 50 nursery staff, who are also Hackney residents.

Dedicated to the children they work with and help flourish, the staff - many of whom are Hackney residents themselves - clearly see the impact of these cuts: the personal pain of losing their jobs and the uncertain futures they face, but even more so the loss of such vital services to those that need it most.

The parent's campaign and unions raised numerous flaws with the proposals at a Council scrutiny commission on Monday 19 February. They flagged that the rationale for closing (or privatising) Fernbank nursery is flawed – considering it is currently running at 105% capacity, made a financial surplus last year, and has the highest number of places for babies. They also raised issues with the occupancy data and misleading suggestions that there is a surplus of nursery class places in schools – when these are for 3 year olds.

We have looked at the offer for 0-2 year old places published by Hackney Council (Family Information Service) and found that council-run children's centres nurseries are the only affordable provision for this age group. The average cost is £85/day in private nurseries – 66% of median pay in Hackney (2021 Census).

Hackney Council's own Childcare Sufficiency Duty Report (2022) stated that “current levels of childcare provision would need to be maintained for overall projected demand for early years childcare to continue to be met”, and this report was before the Government’s expanded entitlement announcement in March 2023. 

Yet, in line with the picture nationally – with closures of nurseries and a decline of childminders –  the council website indicates that there has been a loss of childminders and a closure of private childcare providers across the borough, since the report.

In the scrutiny meeting the officer responsible for the settings stated that there are over 100 registered "providers", and 156 childminders. Yet the Family Information Service currently shows 99, and furthermore such figures can be deceptive as childminders provide childcare for 0-16 year olds. The officer also claimed that they had received definite numbers of children with entitlement codes for the first stage of the new expanded childcare offer from April, and that this did not see an increase in demand, yet the roll out has seen administrative issues already, and the deadline to apply for this code appears to be 28 February.

The responses from the officer in charge were defensive "we don't have a duty to provide affordable childcare", and sometimes seemed to blame children's centre staff for not having business skills or prioritising income. Meanwhile, it became clear that the council had not undertaken any of the parents suggestions to promote the centres or improve efficiency when these closures were first proposed in 2021.

The officer also suggested that private nurseries can be more efficient and profitable because they are not part of a large organisational structure – apparently quite unaware of the growth of huge nursery chains in recent years.

Nursery chains make use of economies of scale, zero-hour contracts/bank staff and low paid apprentices, to keep costs low and maintain profits, meanwhile the council nurseries have Level 3 qualified staff – meaning these nurseries are able to be inclusive to all children, identifying early support needs. Any cut to this affordable and quality childcare provision in Hackney will negatively impact children with different learning needs.

The council isn't scheduled to report again on its childcare sufficiency until May – after the consultation ends. 

This January the London Assembly raised that if we do not address the high costs of childcare in London, along with other pressures “even more families and even more children will be driven out of London.”

Gentrification is not inevitable, it is a political choice. The Mayor of Hackney, Caroline Woodley, spoke at the end of the meeting, stating that she was dedicated to in-sourcing, and that the officers and leaders of the council were "acting in good faith". If this is the case, then following this scrutiny they should now be going back to the drawing board.

We call on the Mayor to halt the public consultation, and cancel these proposals. 

Further information:

Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission, Hackney Council, Monday 19 February, available at The relevant section starts at 32 minutes, see parents eviscerate the Council's data, rationale and plans at 43 minutes. Matt Paul from UNISON and Steve Edwards from Unite follow.

Post Pandemic Childcare is part of the On the Record 'Grow Your Own' project – collecting oral histories of childcare organising in London. If you have worked in childcare, childcare trade union organising, early years campaigns or projects, past or present, we'd love to hear from you. Please contact On the Record to find out how you can get involved.


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