Featured Image Attribution: photo by Steve Cadman

A proposal to close Hackney’s Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres was put to a halt last week after criticism from parents, campaign groups and politicians.

It was set to be approved in the next month’s cabinet meeting, saving £1m in funds for the council, but a petition signed by 1,313 people, sent a strong message to the council.

Hackney council have cited high vacancy rates at the centres as reasons to shut them down with Cllr Caroline Woodley, in a statement from the council, claiming the rates were “as high as 32% at Fernbank and 23% at the Hillside centre.”

Cllr Woodley added, “This means there are approximately 11 out of 41 full-time equivalent spaces unfilled each day, despite work with both centres, to turn this around.”

However, Diane Abbott MP has labelled this reasoning as “dishonest” after a meeting with a staff member at the Fernbank nursery, who informed her that they had been told to turn families away.

“The other Hackney council representatives on the radio were asked about the nursery closures and they said they were closing the nurseries because they had too many spaces” Abbott said, adding: “the reason they had spaces was because the council had instructed them to turn away new parents”.

The cuts would have impacted forty-five kids at these centres, while the rest of them would have moved into schools by next year, when the closures were due to come into effect.

The campaigners, who include Hackney MP Diane Abbott, now demand that the proposal be repealed completely to protect the centres. The council is still deliberating on their decision.

In another statement by Woodley, she said the council had been impacted by “eleven years of austerity and the added financial strain of the pandemic” and that “pausing these closures won’t make the millions of pounds in savings we have to make disappear”.

But Abbott argues: “in the big picture £1m is not that much money and they could find it elsewhere in the councils budget if they want to.”

Hackney council were asked for comment on whether they had advised the centres to turn away families but declined to reply. Woodley, however, assured the campaigners in a message that “any future proposals will be shaped with a focus to achieve the best outcome for Hackney’s children.”