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Councillors set to debate Little Owls nurseries – with closures and ‘alternative providers’ recommended

by Don Mort, local democracy reporting service

Leeds City Council could pull out of running three nurseries in the city to save cash – despite protests from parents.

The Gipton North, Kentmere and Chapel Allerton Little Owls nurseries were earmarked for closure to tackle an overspend on day care provision.

A further 12 nurseries – including Bramley, Burley Park and Hawksworth Wood – could be taken over by alternative providers as part of a review by the cash-strapped council.

The authority would continue to directly operate another nine of the nurseries, which look after children aged between three months and five years.

Senior councillors on the decision-making Executive Board will discuss the proposals at a meeting on Wednesday (June 19), with a council report recommending the cost-cutting measures be approved.

A report to the meeting said that in 2022/23, the annual cost of running Little Owls was £3.9m, which included a £1.9m overspend.

The overspend was was reduced to £841,000 the following year.

The report said: “The financial losses sustained by the council in the operation of its Little Owls nurseries cannot be sustained.”

The Executive Board is recommended to approve the withdrawal from or closure of the three nurseries. The report said withdrawal could mean alternative providers delivering the service in future.

A decision on possible closures was already delayed after an outcry from parents who feared higher nursery costs and disruption for their children. The report said closures would be based on evidence there was sufficient alternative provision for families.

Children currently looked after at Chapel Allerton could be moved to Little Owls Chapeltown or Meanwood. Those attending Gipton North could go to Osmondthorpe or Harehills. Youngsters currently at the Kentmere centre in Seacroft could go to Little Owls Seacroft or Parklands.

A “market sounding” exercise would be held over the future of 12 nurseries. They are: Shepherds Lane, Meanwood, St Mary’s Hunslet, Hawksworth Wood, City and Holbeck, Parklands, Quarry Mount, Bramley, Hunslet Rylestone, Osmondthorpe, Rothwell, Burley Park.

Alternative providers could include schools, charities or private companies.

The Little Owls service is designed to provide free and subsidised nursery care in areas of high deprivation or with a shortage of provision.

There were 28 Little Owls nurseries in the city up to the end of 2022, when it was reduced to 24.

Trade Union officials were being consulted on possible job losses as part of the current proposals

The report said: “The proposal aims to deliver a full year saving of £900,000 in 2024/25 in addition to eliminating the overspend.”

Childcare at nine of the centres would continue to be directly delivered by the council to ensure sufficient places for vulnerable children.

They are: Chapeltown, New Bewerley, Little London, Harehills, Swarcliffe, Seacroft, Middleton Laurel Bank, Two Willows and Armley Moor.

The full council report can be read in full here.

Last week WLD reported on a march from Bramley Shopping Centre to Bramley Park by parents and campaigners concerned about the future of Little Owls provision in Bramley.

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