SOS plea over Leeds City College plan to axe three nurseries

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CAMPAIGNERS are pleading with college bosses for a one-year reprieve for three under-threat nurseries which provide vital childcare for students with young children.

Leeds City College - which operates from several sites across the city - is planning to close its nurseries at St Bartholomew’s Centre, Armley; Brudenell Centre, Hyde Park, and Thomas Danby Nursery, Sheepscar in July, as it tries to stem annual losses of £80,000.

Talks have been ongoing between college bosses and the GMB and Unison unions, which represent many of the 36 nursery staff who face losing their jobs, and an online petition has been gathering pace, Now, local politicians have joined the chorus of voices asking for a 12 month reprieve, to allow staff to build a case to keep the nurseries open.

In a joint letter, Armley councillors Alison Lowe and James McKenna, along with Moortown parliamentary candidate Alex Sobel, have written to Peter Roberts, principal and chief executive of the college, to express their “grave concerns” about the closure plans.

“The loss of this provision would have a detrimental impact on many students who currently use the nurseries,” the letter says.

“It would also mean the loss of this provision to future generations. The students have a right to good quality childcare provision and the staff have a right to decent jobs. Leeds City College has a fine tradition of supporting women who have been given a second chance at education. The college should be proud of this achievement and should seek to find a solution to the childcare costs so that many more women can benefit from this second chance. Please work with us to find a solution together. We, therefore, would ask you to give all three nurseries a reprieve of one year so that the staff can demonstrate that the nurseries are a viable proposition.”

A Save Leeds City College Nurseries petition on the Internet already has almost 300 signatures. It says “many students depend on these nurseries” and that 36 staff will lose their jobs.

It adds: “All we are asking for is one more year, so that we can prove to you that the Leeds City College nurseries are viable.”

A spokeswoman for the college said it had been forced by funding cuts into “considering a number of its business operations” and this has included ”an assessment of the nursery provision and its financial viability”.

“The three nurseries have been maintained for some years, running at a substantial loss but with operations underwritten by the college,” the spokeswoman added.

“During a 45 day consultation period, meetings have taken place between college management, trade union representatives, staff and students, and various options for the nurseries were discussed to determine whether or not financial viability could be achieved.

“To offer external places to additional children without compromising places for college students is not possible. Without this additional guaranteed income and all year round opening, the nursery position is not financially viable. It is therefore with regret that at the end of the consultation period a decision was reached to close the nurseries.”

She added that childcare support funds will still be available for eligible students to pay for childcare provision outside of college.

The college’s senior deputy principal David Harwood said: “Leeds City College already works with a high number of students to access and secure childcare with external providers across a range of care settings – more than it does through its own nursery provision - and will continue to do so.”

He added the college is offering individual consultation meetings with affected staff and their representatives.

The nurseries will run as normal until the end of the 2013/2014 college term, closing on July 4.

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