By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Up to five council-run nurseries in Leeds could shut as part of a cost-cutting drive.
Rothwell’s Little Owls nursery has been earmarked for closure by the city council, as it grapples with severe spending cuts and a crisis in the childcare industry.
A further four Little Owls centres, in Bramley (on Fairfield Street), Meanwood, Swarcliffe and Shepherds Lane in Chapeltown will also have their futures placed under review.
Others in Armley, Middleton, inner east Leeds and on the city centre’s southern outskirts are likely to be merged with nearby centres.
The council says the overall plans could save just over £1m and are part of a wider effort to save public money, with inflation, austerity and rising demand having decimated local government finances.
Across 28 Little Owls nurseries in the city, the authority says it’s making a loss, although it’s conceded the proposals may inconvenience parents and staff.
The industry has struggled post-Covid with a shortage of qualified staff and fewer parents enrolling their kids with nurseries, as the working-from-home culture takes effect.
Speaking at a media briefing about the council’s wider budget plans for next year, council leader James Lewis said: “At the moment we’re looking at where there’s a number of Little Owls nurseries close together, running those at one site rather than two.
“Then at five sites across the city we’re looking at the viability of those in the long-term, whether there’s private sector and voluntary providers (of childcare) in those areas and whether we need to continue providing serices.
“Nearly all our nurseries are being run at a loss even though parents are paying for their childcare, so we need to make that service financially viable.”
A briefing paper going before Leeds’ most senior councillors next week said the numbers of children in each nursery had influenced the closure plans, but added that “further detailed work needs to be undertaken in order to fully assess the case for closure”.
It said the mergers and the clousre of the Rothwell centre would deliver savings, while staff will be offered jobs at other venues.
The proposed mergers would see Armley Chapel Lane become part of Armley Moor, children at Richmond Hill diverted to Osmondthorpe and the Dewsbury Road centre put together with the New Bewerley and City and Holbeck nurseries.
The Middleton nursery for children over the age of three would be merged with the nearby Laurel Bank branch.
The council said unions and local councillors had been briefed about the mergers and had raised “no major concerns”.
However, there is yet to be any consultation over the closure of the Rothwell site.
The council paper added: “In order to mitigate any adverse staffing impact there will be detailed work to align, as far as possible, displaced staff to settings of their choice or that are easily accessible/geographically close to their homes.
“It is recognised that this may not be achievable in all instances, and the service will work closely with staff to minimise disruption.
It continued: “It is recognised that there may be an impact on parents in the case of all the proposals, given there may be increased journey time to an alternative setting and be unsettling for the children moving nurseries (whether within Little Owls or into another provider).
“Key to the proposals will be a period of engagement, working with parents and carers to provide reassurance, alleviate concerns and address, wherever possible, any negative impact.”
The proposals will be discussed at next week’s meeting of the decision-making executive board.