Campaigners are fighting to save Sure Start centres and Early Years nurseries across Manchester, which are all set to be closed.
The shock announcement has caused anger and alarm across the city.
The city council provides some of the best Sure Start centres in Britain.
But following massive cuts imposed by the Tories, they all now face the axe. The council intends to cut
£22 million from the services for five-year olds and under.
They intend to stop being direct providers of children’s services. Privatisation is now their preferred policy.
Danielle Leadbetter and Joanne McCann, of the Save Manchester Sure Start campaign, explain why we need to keep Sure Start.
“Everyone is looking to see what happens in Manchester,” said Joanne.
Danielle has been a volunteer receptionist at a Clayton Sure Start centre for seven years.
She explained, “Sure Start provides high quality care not available elsewhere.”
“Children here get more stimulation compared with private day care.
“We help mums gain experience, and this increases their self confidence. People think Sure Start is just for unemployed mums on benefits, but it’s not. Lots who use the centres are working parents.”
“The ratio of carer to child is much lower in Sure Start,” says Joanna.
“For the under one year olds it has one-to-one care, compared to the private sector where it’s one to three.”
It’s also cheaper. “On a Saturday our Sure Start centre offers two hours’ care for 75p, so working mums can do the shopping, have a break, and not worry about how their kids are being looked after.”
Mother Alison Jones is also active in the campaign. “In Wythenshawe you can pay £160 a week for childcare,” she said.
Joanne said, “If they remove the 700 nursery places that the council currently provides, then people will have to rely on the informal sector for child care. Then there will be more problems with child protection.”
The private sector is set to move in.
“Serco and Capita are two companies in the frame,” explained Jimmy Thornton, branch secretary of the Manchester council Unite branch, which is backing the campaign.
Emma Martin, a community artist who worked in Sure Start centres across the city until her work was cut said, “Sure Start is about giving children a grounding. Private nurseries are about making money.”
One of the current private sector childcare providers is Bear Necessities.
“But some of their staff are on one-month only contracts, so their people treat it as just a job,” said Joanne.
There is anger at the city council.
“Council leader Richard Lees recently came to see our centre,” explained Danielle.
“He had never been in the building before. He hasn’t got a clue, he turned up at 4.30pm to look round.
“As if anyone would be using the centre at that time!”
The buzz word in the council is “worklessness”, says Joanne. “So why are they expanding worklessness?”
The closure proposals will cut 390 experienced childcare workers’ jobs.
“Take away nursery provision and people will face the choice of working to pay for nursery fees—or giving up altogether,” says Jimmy.
“This will lead to isolation, more despair and a rise in mental health problems.
“We will be fighting to keep directly provided, affordable childcare in Manchester,” he said.
The city council has opened a 30-day “consultation” on their proposals.
Manchester Sure Start campaigners will be joining the march against the Tory party conference on 2 October.