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The Socialist 4 October 2007 |
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Double whammy for nursery campaign
Kirklees Council has performed its second u-turn in two weeks. Having planned to close three nurseries, it was forced to lift the axe hanging over Tiddlywinks nursery a fortnight ago. Now, after sustained campaigning by parents and Unison, the council has granted a reprieve to Cambridge Road nursery. This is even more remarkable given the decision was made by a Tory cabinet!
Mike Forster Huddersfield Socialist Party
Back in February, when the campaign began, managers in the Early Years Service wrote off the chances of any nurseries staying open, citing a £1 million subsidy to maintain them. The magnificent unity of staff and parents, brought together by Unison, waged a long-running and effective challenge to the council's plans leading to last week's climb-down.
On hearing about the proposed closure of Cambridge Road, we put together a plan to reverse the recommendation. Lobbying leaders of all three political groups, we demanded that they support our call. The Cabinet, set to ignore an Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommendation for a more thorough review, was forced to halt its plans.
This had not been automatic! The Lib Dem leader suggested we should be happy with one nursery staying open. The Labour leader remained uncertain until the Cabinet meeting. However, since all Cabinet meetings are held in public, we demanded that all the leaders attend the meeting. Tory Councillor Dodds had to try to explain his actions to a parent, with baby in arms, and the union steward for the 'doomed' nursery.
Ten campaigners turned up to hear the debate, as well as the leaders of the Lib Dem and Labour groups. There were two options: to close all three nurseries or to keep just Tiddlywinks open until I proposed a third option from the floor. Cabinet members were not sufficiently confident to speak so the debate was dominated by parents and staff demanding that the Cabinet abide by the recommendation for a review.
In the end, under pressure from the Liberal Democrats who the Tories rely on, Councillor Dodds was forced to say: "Although I have found Mike very difficult, he is not unreasonable and Unison is offering a way out of this mess"! After more hesitation, the Cabinet voted for our proposal and Cambridge Road was reprieved at the very last minute.
For campaigners it took a while for the extent of the victory to sink in, but last week's full council meeting ratified the decision. Parents and Unison are drawing up plans to prepare evidence for the council's full review. This victory is a great start to the Save Our Services Group which is to be formally launched later this month.