'Terrible decision' as struggling Sunderland nursery to close after falling numbers and financial woes

A struggling city nursery will close its doors for good next month due to financial issues and falling pupil numbers.

By Chris Binding
Saturday, 20 July, 2019, 06:00
Councillor Graeme Miller

Millfield Community Nursery School has faced a growing budget deficit, year on year, since 2015.

Attempts by Sunderland City Council to balance the books – including three staff restructures and a pupil recruitment drive – were not enough to tackle the issue.

If left unchecked, the deficit of the maintained nursery school was predicted to rise to nearly £420,000 in 2023/24.

Councillor Paul Stewart

Following a decision by the School Organisation Committee of Cabinet on July 17, the 120-plus capacity centre will be “discontinued”.

However, council bosses were reassured that the closure would have minimal impact on children – with only four pupils still looking for alternative places.

Potential redundancy costs will have to be recalculated as the majority of staff have found other employment.

Council leader, Coun Graeme Miller, speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre, said there was a “reasoned case” for the closure.

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Councillor Louise Farthing

“Nobody, as a councillor, comes in to be closing schools,” he told the meeting.

“It’s a terrible decision that unfortunately has to be taken. It has to be said that this is nine years of austerity and nine years of cuts to education budgets and getting rid of Sure Start Centres which the Labour party holds dear to its heart.

“I’m comfortable with the decision because so many of the children are already allocated to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ provision within a reasonable location from where the current facility is.”

In recent years, council bosses considered merging the nursery with another centre, but scrapped the idea due to fears the change would negate savings and “destabilize” the other provision.

Despite demand for nursery places in Millfield area over the last three years, this was not reflected in recruitment at Millfield Community Nursery School.

In Spring this year, the nursery was operating at half of its capacity.

Millfield Community Nursery will close on August 31. No alternative use is planned for the building, but council officers said several options remain.