Mayor Biggs chooses to close Mary Sambrook, John Smith and Overland day nurseries

Tower Hamlets Council decided at Cabinet on Wednesday that the borough’s three council-run day nurseries – Mary Sambrook, John Smith and Overland – are to close.

Following the Cabinet decision, Mary Sambrook Nursery which had closed over the summer will not reopen, John Smith will close at Christmas and Overland will close at the end of July 2019.

Children who have been attending Overland Nursery which provides specialist care for deaf children will be allocated places at Children’s House, a maintained nursery school.

Save Our Nurseries Tower Hamlets campaigners claim that this decision breaks John Biggs manifesto promise on which he campaigned during the May elections:

“We will continue to enable families supported by social care or whose children have SEND [Special Educational Needs and Disability] to access specialist childcare, such as the hearing loss support offered at Overland Day Nursery” – Mayor John Biggs, Labour Party Manifesto, May 2018

The Save Our Nurseries campaigners also point out that Councillor Danny Hassell successfully moved a motion to stop the closure of the very same nurseries in 2014.

The motion stated: ’the services provided by these nurseries to disabled children & their families are especially valuable & unlikely to be provided in the same way by alternative provision’ – Agenda for Tower Hamlets Council, Wednesday 26th November 2014, 7.30 p.m., Note Item 13.1 (Urgent Motions).

A letter in the Evening Standard signed by parents, Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, Dr Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick University, fourteen Tower Hamlets GPs, Special Educational Needs specialists and Early Years practitioners was published yesterday.

The letter’s signatories asked why a Labour Council representing one of the most deprived areas of the country is proposing to close three council-run nurseries.

The letter warns of the loss of specialist services for the most vulnerable in our society if the closure goes ahead: ‘Children with Special Educational Needs will be abandoned to a private and voluntary sector that is in crisis due to the underfunding of the 30 hours voucher scheme. Less early intervention will occur and children will not reach their potential.’

Confusing priorities

The Council states that its day nurseries cost £1.66m per year to run and that there are 22,000 children under the age of five in Tower Hamlets.

The unwanted and unexplained refurbishment of Raines House in Wapping will cost £1.3m with these costs set to rise.

How does it make sense to blow £1.3m on Raines when that amount could run the day nurseries for the best part of a year?

The expenditure on Raines House is all the more puzzling as the 2016 Community Buildings Review – Recommendation Report stated that: ‘The building will also have to be in relatively good condition and not require significant capital investment on the council’s part.’  (Para 12.3)

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