The campaign to save Fernbank and Hillside Children’s Centres in Hackney, east London, has won!
Hackney Unison, the union representing many of the staff, said:
“This was only achieved by a massive campaign by the parents and staff against these closures and the loss of over 100 children’s places and over 30 jobs.
“This is a significant victory, but is only one battle in what may well be a war against other cuts. We do not just want a pause, but a commitment to no closures.”
“When asked to send a written apology to all staff for the stress and anxiety caused over the last two months… [the council] refused. This has created widespread mistrust in the council.
“This stress and anxiety will now be transferred to eleven children centres, with a wider review next year. Hackney Unison, along with the parents’ campaign, will continue to call for no cuts to take place in children’s centres provision. This is a vital and valuable service that is irreplaceable.”
Brian Debus, Hackney Unison chair, spoke to the Socialist in a personal capacity. He said:
“It’s the view of Hackney Unison that central government cuts to council spending should not be passed on. We acknowledge that the cause of the council to even consider cuts is ten years of Tory government austerity. But we believe there is an alternative.
“This would be to draw up a legal, needs-based budget, bringing in contributions from the local community as to what that should include. If several councils did this, they could then present a united front to this government – stating this is what we need and this what you need to provide.
“If Labour councils don’t do this, we will lead a mass campaign, involving all those in the local community, from trade unions to community groups and the wider population. This may require a mass demo of tens of thousands to Downing Street to deliver what we need.
“This victory was on the back of a lively and enthusiastic lobby of the full council in October, including parents, children, staff and trade unionists on the town hall steps. Such was the publicity that the campaign generated, nearly 900 completed consultations were sent in to the council, with the overwhelming majority opposing cuts.
“Alongside the massive public campaign by parents, Hackney Unison was starting to ballot its members at Fernbank and Hillside to take strike action, if the council did not stop these closures.
“In the run up to the local elections in May 2022, Hackney Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has organised a People’s Budget meeting for Wednesday 8 December. Natalie Aguilera, one of the parents leading the children’s campaign, will speak alongside myself.
“Together with Socialist Party members, who will stand as anti-cuts candidates, we would like to invite campaigners from the local community to also join us to ensure a voice is given to all those fighting against any proposed council cuts.
“Over the last six weeks, staff and parents have bought scores of copies of the Socialist. They have appreciated the coverage the newspaper has given to this campaign.”
Hackney children’s centres: Campaigners see through council deception
4TH NOVEMBER 2021
by Brian Debus, Hackney Trades Union Council president
Responding to the closure of Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres in east London, Hackney Labour mayor Philip Glanville claimed: “If we did not have to do this we wouldn’t”.
Glanville uses a flawed report to justify closure, claiming a 23% vacancy rate at council-run nurseries. Parents have picked apart this consultation document.
Pre-Covid, for many months in 2019, Fernbank was running at over 100% capacity, and had a financial surplus. To try and use figures from the Covid period is downright dishonest. Nationally, similar settings suffered a significant decline in attendance.
There is an alternative, and that is to fight, as parents and staff have decided to do.
The workers’ union, Unison, will conduct an official ballot for strike action of all its members at the two centres to stop the closures and job losses.
Mayor Glanville and all Labour councillors should use council reserves in the interim, and join us in demanding the government returns the £140 million it has stolen from Hackney in the last decade. The Tories have given billions of pounds to their rich mates, a few crumbs from this cake would solve Hackney’s problems.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is helping to draw up a People’s Budget that spells out the needs of the population of Hackney, and the bill should be presented to the government. If Labour councils adopt this fighting strategy, local community campaigns, trade unions, and the wider population would be only too willing to join them.
If this does not happen, many will draw the conclusion that we need alternative candidates in next year’s local elections. TUSC is ready to stand against those parties implementing budget cuts.
The fight for Hackney’s children’s centres continues
28TH OCTOBER 2021
by Rob Thomas, Hackney and Islington Socialist Party
The fight against the closure of two of Hackney’s affordable children’s centres, Fernbank and Hillside, continued on Wednesday 20 October. Families and staff rallied to protest the closures outside of Hackney Town Hall, supported by trade unionists and Socialist Party members, as a full Labour-controlled council meeting was underway inside.
The closures would see the loss of 109 affordable childcare places and over 25 local jobs at centres that have served the community for 40 years. This is the latest attack on working families already suffering from the recent return to austerity policies at the hands of the Tory government. The continued stripping back of public services forces more and more families into the expensive private sector, which results in more money going into the hands of bosses.
The UK already has some of the highest childcare costs in the world. After real-terms pay freezes caused by ten years of austerity and inflation, national insurance uplifts and recent cuts to Universal Credit, what working families need is more support.
If the mayor and the councillors had looked out the window on Wednesday night, they’d have noticed the growing discontent and appetite for alternative politics. The Save Fernbank and Hillside campaigns were not alone in their demonstration outside the council meeting. Morning Lane People’s Space was fighting the council’s plans to redevelop the local Tesco site into office space, retail and residential units, with little-to-no affordable housing available to residents.
Save Ridley Road, St Mungo’s workers, and Low Traffic Neighbourhood campaigns were also holding rallies against the council’s proposed plans. It paints a stark picture of the council’s priorities and the growing discontent among the public for real change. It shows the need for a real political alternative and party that fights for working-class people; standing candidates in council elections who demand what is needed for our local communities and are prepared to take on the Tory government for the necessary funding.
Over 1,000 people have already signed the petition to save Fernbank and Hillside Children’s Centres. Help us fight back against these cuts by searching for the petition online and adding your signature. See ‘Save Fernbank and Hillside Children’s Centres’ at change.org
Hackney children’s centres – more education cuts are devastating
20TH OCTOBER 2021
by Brian Debus, Chair, Unison Hackney local government (personal capacity)
After years of behind-the-scenes cuts, the Labour council in Hackney, east London, is now cutting education services to the bone. Scores of support staff in schools have lost their jobs in the last two years.
Now, two children’s centres, Fernbank and Hillside, within a 15-minute walk of each other, face closure – with the potential loss of over 25 jobs.
Meanwhile, at Holmleigh Primary School, a stone’s throw from Hillside, five of 13 support staff jobs are being cut over Christmas. All these cuts will have a devastating impact on staff, children and parents.
At a joint meeting of Fernbank and Hillside workers on 12 October, members of public service union Unison voted unanimously to call for an official ballot for strike action. They will have the full support of parents outraged by the attacks, who are also mounting a campaign.
Parents, children and workers have already demonstrated against the council’s shock announcement (see socialistparty.org.uk). Hackney and Islington Socialist Party ran a joint campaign stall with parents on 16 October. A future protest is due on the steps of Hackney Town Hall at 6pm on 20 October.
Any more cuts in the education sector will have a massive impact on the learning environment for children – in particular, young and vulnerable children of working-class families. Almost half the families served are on low incomes.
Labour councils need to stop meekly implementing Tory cuts in funding. Instead, they could use their substantial reserves to reverse austerity, and use the huge support this would receive to build a campaign for more central government funds.
Community and trade union campaigns will need to consider standing their own, anti-cuts candidates next May in council elections. They would be welcome to join the transport workers’ union RMT, the Socialist Party and others in standing under the umbrella of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Hackney: Stop closure of Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres
15TH OCTOBER 2021
by Chris Newby, Hackney Socialist Party
On 8 October, over 50 parents, children and members of public sector union Unison protested to demand that Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres in Hackney, east London, be kept open. Hackney council is proposing to close them from August next year.
Staff only found out about the proposed closures after they had been announced in a local newspaper. 109 places for children will be cut – over half are from lower-income families.
The parents really value the work of the staff with their children, and have developed good links with the staff and their union. Parents and staff are determined to fight these cuts. Union membership has nearly doubled since the closure was announced.
More cuts coming
Parent Natalie Aguilera, spokesperson of the campaign, said: “If we allow these children’s centres to be closed, I believe that more will follow, as Hackney Council continues to make cuts to vital services. Parents are… deeply anxious about the impact on their children, as well as the enormous difficulty of finding affordable childcare elsewhere.
“We call on Hackney Council to stop these closures, and we will continue to fight for the wonderful, long-serving staff, the young children attending this incredible children’s centre, families being supported by the centre, and for more, not less, quality, affordable childcare in Hackney.”
The Socialist Party fully supports the parents and workers in their fight to keep the centres open, and will do what we can to support the campaign. We say there should be no cuts to any of the council services.
Instead, Hackney Council should use its reserves immediately to stop any cuts, and then launch a campaign involving the unions, community organisations and residents to demand the government give Hackney the funding for the services that it needs.