Bright Start Nursery

Below is the text of a statement I made at yesterday’s Full Council meeting on the future of the Bright Start nursery:

Mr Mayor, with your permission I would like to make a brief statement which I believe Council will want to hear before we start the debate proper on Bright Start.

I have listened very carefully today to the many questions on this from parents and staff at the nursery and I have received a large number of representations over the last few weeks asking me to keep the nursery open.

Mr Mayor, we launched this consultation on the future of Bright Start because we didn’t feel that it was justifiable to keep subsidising the nursery to the extent that the tax payer has been doing over the years. This is the only nursery in the City which receives such a subsidy and we don’t feel that it is a fair or sustainable situation. In particular, it is not fair on the vast majority of parents whose children attend nurseries which aren’t subsidised, nor is it fair on the council tax payers who have been funding the subsidy.

However, we have always been very clear, and my colleague Cllr. Vanessa Brown has stated this on many occasions, that no decision has yet been made and that we were open to any suggestions on the future of the nursery.

Colleagues will be aware that the  Localism Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Monday, contains provisions to enable this to happen through measures such as the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and the ‘Community Right to Buy’. In my view, these are hugely welcome measures and really open up enormous opportunities for local communities to become more involved in the running of local services and assets which are of value to them. Mr Mayor, this represents a refreshing and long-overdue shift from the top-down, highly centralised control of public services which has become entrenched over the last decade or so.

So, what I would like to do to today Mr Mayor, in the spirit of the new Localism Bill, is to formally propose, for consultation and consideration, Bright Start as a community asset to a consortium of parents, staff or other interested local parties. I know that a substantial business-case has already been put forward by one parent and I would hope that others may come forward and engage constructively with the Council about this opportunity of taking Bright Start forward.

I have been advised by officers that in order to achieve this lawfully and safely at this stage we should extend the consultation period, which has just finished, to enable detailed proposals to be worked up. As part of this, we will issue a further consultation document in the New Year which will lay out the financial and legal implications for anyone wishing to establish a community nursery.

For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to make it absolutely clear that no decision has been made about the future of Bright Start and we have not ruled out any options. We are proposing to extend the consultation, not to abandon it. At the conclusion of the extended consultation, we will take into account all representations received and approach the issue fairly and with an open mind.

Therefore, Mr Mayor, today we shall be abstaining on the various proposals and amendments before us, as to express an opinion at this stage would pre-empt anything which might emerges from the extended consultation.

Mr Mayor, I can completely understand the strong feelings that have been expressed around Bright Start – after all, there is nothing more important than ones children. This is a genuine offer we are putting on the table today and I hope that it is taken in the spirit in which it is intended.

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December 2010

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