Town hall chiefs have been accused of “breaking children’s hearts” to save money after it was announced the last two council-run nurseries in the town are set to shut as part of a £250,000 cost-cutting drive.
The closure of nurseries at the Grange Park and Talbot and Brunswick Sure Start Centres also mean the loss of up to 26 jobs.
Coun John JonesIt is a very difficult decision to make but we know there are ample places available elsewhere
Parents have reacted angrily to the news which affects families living in two of the most deprived areas of Blackpool.
They have started a petition calling for the nurseries, which have 97 children on their books, to be saved.
But the council says there are plenty of free places available at private nurseries across the town which the children affected will be able to access.
Mum-of-two Nikki Hitchon, 24, whose two-year-old daughter Ellie-Rose goes to the nursery at the Talbot and Brunswick Sure Start Centre on Gorton Street, said: “Everyone is very upset because this is a brilliant nursery which had made a difference to a lot of children.
“It also means the parents can take up the courses offered at the Sure Start Centre, because they can put their children into childcare here. I don’t know what we’ll do now.
“This is one of the most deprived areas of Blackpool so why is the council closing something which is needed by so many people here?”
Donna Gallagher, whose son Harris, aged two, also attends the nursery, said: “They are using money to break children’s hearts.
“My son had speech problems before he started here and he has come on brilliantly. Now I have to tell him he can’t go to nursery any more and see his friends there.”
Laura Mausolf, of Layton, said: “My son has autism and has just settled in at the nursery so it will be a nightmare to have to resettle him somewhere else.”
Parents who use the nursery at the Grange Park Sure Start Centre are equally angry.
Mum-of-four Louise Rowlands, 37, of Grange Park, said: “It is a really big part of the community, and like a lot of parents here, I don’t drive so it will be difficult to travel further.
“I want to work but without childcare it is difficult.
“Why are they telling me that when my youngest child is three I have to be actively seeking work and then taking childcare away from us?”
Union leaders said staff were devastated at the announcement.
David Dickinson, assistant branch secretary for Unison at Blackpool Council, said: “None of the staff expected the nurseries to be closed.
“They thought they might go down to term-time hours, but not this.
“The consultation period is very short, only two weeks, but we are going to fight it.”
The council said there were 2,400 nursery places available in Blackpool provided by 64 private nurseries and 65 childminders, but demand for only 2,200 places which meant there was over provision.
All children aged three and over are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery places a week for 38 weeks a year, with the same for the most deprived two-year-olds, funded by the government.
Coun John Jones, cabinet member for children safeguarding on Blackpool Council, said: “Since January we have been reviewing the nursery provision that exists across Blackpool.
“As a result we are currently consulting on a proposal that would see Talbot and Brunswick and Grange Park Children’s Centres stop providing nursery places.
“The Children’s Centres will remain open and continue to offer services to families and children.
“It is a very difficult decision to make but we know there are ample places available elsewhere in the private, voluntary and independent childcare sector in the town.
“When the budget was announced in January we said we would review our children’s centres. It is not something we want to do but faced with our budget being cut by £26m this year alone we have had to look at every service we provide and see where efficiencies can be made. The review found that sufficient childcare places exist across Blackpool in a variety of different settings.
“Over the last few days we have met with staff to let them know about the proposals and we are also writing to all parents and prospective parents of the nurseries.
“Families will be invited to attend consultation sessions so we can hear their views and offer them assistance if they want to look for alternative childcare.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard is backing the parents’ campaign.
He said: “I am shocked to hear the council has decided to close Grange Park’s nursery.
“If there is a surplus of places across the town I feel the council should not allow these closures to hit some of the most vulnerable in the town.
“I know that currently 15 hours of free care is provided by the Government, but at the recent budget the Chancellor announced a doubling of this to 30 hours a week.
“I wonder if the council has factored this in to its calculations. I will be asking the council to justify this decision and I will be backing mums and dads in their protest against the council decision. I think they really do need to think again.”
The closures will take affect from August 31 if they go ahead, but parents and staff were informed ahead of the summer break.