Abbey City councillors Haf Davies, Nicky Massey and Richard Johnson have joined Labour’s County Council candidate Alexandra Bulat to raise concerns over the impact of recent restructuring, prompted by Tory funding cuts, on the long-term future of The Fields Children’s Centre.
Dr. Bulat, who asked a public question on the issue at today’s meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council, explained how important the centre has been to the local community;
“State-funded nursery schools are a lifeline for hundreds of families in Cambridge and are a crucial part of the mosaic of early years settings across the county. In Abbey, the state-funded Fields Children’s Centre lost a third of its staff and 20 places during the pandemic due to irresponsible Tory funding cuts.
“The Fields is struggling just to stay open and provide the much needed services to children in Abbey, where 1 in 5 children live in poverty.”
With the supplementary funding for state-maintained nursery schools only guaranteed for just a few months, Labour councillors and activists are asking what the County Council can do to ensure there is a commitment from central Government to sustainable funding that will enable all nurseries to plan ahead and rather than constantly firefighting and remaining in crisis management mode.
Cllr Simon Bywater, Conservative Executive Councillor for Community Resilience and Wellbeing at the County Council, called the funding situation “a frustration that we all have at the local authority in relation to long-term planning for our maintained nursery schools”.
However, Labour have pointed out that the County Council continued to preside over a series of cuts to those communities that are most in need. As Cllr Bywater himself said: “Regrettably, the Government had to take a decision to close it due to financial pressures as it’s often the case in areas of deprivation.”
The County is also taking away a third of the space at The Fields – three rooms and an outdoor area, leaving many residents disheartened that they were not consulted in this process. It is unclear how this space will be used to address the needs of the early years sector. Cllr Bywater said the County commissioned a feasibility study, but it is not clear to Abbey residents how their voices will be heard in this process.
Rather than hiding behind central Government cuts, the County Council needs to take more local-level action to reverse the damage to early years provision and make sure services are not disproportionately reduced or closed where families need them most.
Education Minister Gavin Williamson claimed that nurseries are ‘crucial, vital, and very, very important’ in front of the Education Committee last month. Unfortunately, until a sustainable funding plan for state nurseries is implemented, these claims are just words, and yet more empty promises.