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HomeNewsLittle Owls nursery closures and review will go ahead, scrutiny board decides

Little Owls nursery closures and review will go ahead, scrutiny board decides

By Don Mort, local democracy reporter

The closure of three council-run nurseries – and a review into the future of 12 others – will go ahead after attempts to have the decision reconsidered were unsuccessful.

The Little Owls centres at Chapel Allerton, Kentmere in Seacroft and Gipton North were earmarked to be shut down under cost-saving plans by Leeds City Council.

The move sparked an outcry from parents, who claimed they were not consulted properly.

Cash-strapped Leeds City Council said keeping the centres open was not sustainable as it wrestles with balancing its books, and that children would be found alternative nursery places.

Little Owls Nursery in Burley Park. Photo: Google

Opposition councillors asked for the closure decision, and a wider review of the Little Owls Service, to be referred back to the council’s executive board.

But the closures and all but one of the review proposals were released for implementation by the council’s Children and Families scrutiny board.

Coun Ryan Stephenson, who brought one of the requests for a review, said the closures could lead to a lack of provision for children with special needs.

He told a scrutiny meeting: “If the service is no longer there then they will have very few options available to them.

“Getting a place is something you start considering before your child is born.”

Coun Stephenson, Conservative member for Harewood, made a formal request for a “call-in” of the Little Owls review.

The procedure means a scrutiny board can ask for significant council decisions to be reconsidered.

Under threat: Bramley Little Owls Nursery

Coun Mothin Ali, Gipton and Harehills Green Party councillor, brought a second call-in request.

He argued that the effect on families in some parts of the city had not been properly taken into account.

Coun Ali said: “It fails to properly consider the impact on the life opportunities of both children and parents, especially for people from deprived backgrounds.

“It’s going to disproportionately affect those from minority backgrounds.”

Mum Hattie Hodgson-Crome told the meeting families were happy with the Little Owls service.

She said: “It feels like this decision has been rushed. It’s not been thought through properly.

“The staff are really experienced and able to support families in a crisis.”

Helen Hayden, executive member for children and families, said the council did not want to close nurseries and staff would not lose their jobs.

She said: “Moving the staff and making these closures ensures the sustainability of the Little Owls settings for our children and families.”

The Little Owls budget was overspent by £1.9m in 2022/23 and by £840,000 the following year, according to council reports.

Julie Longworth, director of children and families, said: “It’s really impacting on the council budget.

“We have seen other local authorities that have essentially declared bankruptcy.

“We can’t shy away from doing the right thing, even if it is the most difficult thing.”

The scrutiny board decided the closures could go ahead, along with other measures including the council continuing to directly run nine Little Owls centres.

A review of another 12 centres will be carried out, which could see them merged or taken over by alternative providers. These include centres at Bramley, Burley Park and Hawksworth Wood in the west of the city.

The board voted to refer future decisions over those centres back to the executive board.

A spokesperson for the Stop the Closure of Little Owls said: “We are hugely concerned that closing or privatising Little Owls nurseries will make Leeds a worse place to be a parent, and a worse place for out most vulnerable children.

“Our campaign does not stop here. We are committed to holding the council to account as they explore the future of Little Owls nurseries and will do all we can to protect this wonderful service.”

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