Little Owls Leeds: Yorkshire nurseries to close despite outcry from parents

The closure of three nurseries will go ahead after attempts to have the decision reconsidered by council bosses 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.

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

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Cash-strapped Leeds City Council said keeping the centres open was not sustainable and children would be found alternative nursery places.

Little Owls Nursery and Childrens Centre  on Blake Grove, Chapel Allerton, Leeds.Little Owls Nursery and Childrens Centre  on Blake Grove, Chapel Allerton, Leeds.
Little Owls Nursery and Childrens Centre on Blake Grove, Chapel Allerton, Leeds.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.”