Labour calls for £1m "contingency fund" to safeguard Lancashire's nursery schools

Lancashire County Council says it is pursuing a "twin track" approach to the future of its nurseries - including making the case for more government funding
Lancashire County Council says it is pursuing a "twin track" approach to the future of its nurseries - including making the case for more government funding

Lancashire County Council will be asked to come up with a £1m contingency fund to prevent the closure of any of its nursery schools until the government’s long-term plans for the sector become clear.

Lancashire County Council will be asked to come up with a £1m contingency fund to prevent the closure of any of its nursery schools until the government’s long-term plans for the sector become clear.

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The opposition Labour group has 'called in' in a decision taken by the authority’s cabinet last week to begin a formal consultation into the future of four its pre-schools which education bosses say are “financially unviable”.

The identities of the affected nurseries are yet to be made public - and County Hall has found that the finances of a further ten are “vulnerable”.

But all 24 council-run nursery schools could be at risk next year if the government does not extend a special grant that currently supports them. The ringfenced funding has so far only been confirmed until April 2021.

Deputy leader of the Labour group, John Fillis, said that none of the county’s nurseries should be allowed to close in the interim - until the fate of all them is more certain.

“We don’t want people putting their children into a nursery and then finding it’s going to shut, so that they have to start searching all over again,” County Cllr Fillis said.

“There is no shortage of kids - so why aren’t these nurseries in a stronger financial position? That’s why the consultation is so important and we support the council in that.

“But if there is something we can do to help, we have to have the finances to back it up. This is about getting all the nursery schools through to next spring - and offering parents reassurance that their children will have somewhere to go.”

The matter will now be heard by a special scrutiny committee meeting sometime next week. If councillors vote to call in the cabinet decision, then the member for schools, Phillippa Williamson, will have to think again - and either revise her plans or explain why she has chosen not to do so.

County Cllr Williamson said after the cabinet meeting last week that she was hopeful that all of the nurseries would have a future - but admitted some would require a “creative” solution.

She added at the time: “We’ll be working with them and the latest data that we have, [including] pupil numbers, to work out what the future should be for each of those schools.”

In response to the call-in request, a spokesperson for Lancashire County Council, said: "I can confirm that a call-in request has been received regarding the decision made at cabinet last week. Arrangements are now being made for a special meeting of the education scrutiny committee to be held, so that the request can be considered.”