Joining Up Children’s Services

Improving services for children, protecting them and creating new local children’s centres, along similar lines of the neighbourhood services offices, was a strong manifesto commitment from 1984 through to 1987. This chapter describes the development of the children’s centres, and the organisational structures bringing the dispersed responsibilities for different aspects of care of children under the age of five into one division of the Council. This required complex changes to committee structures and staffing. Some of the changes that then are described through to 1996 were in response to national legislation and recommendations, other changes of plan were driven by the budget crises.
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Commitment and Structure
Following Labour’s general election defeat in June 1987 and the recognition that the constraints on the capital budget would severely restrict the Children’s Centres Programme, there was nevertheless some optimism that progress could be made in bringing together and improving Children’s Services. Although the 1987 Manifesto commitment to a ‘rolling programme’ of children’s centres might no longer be feasible, there were plenty of other issues that could be progressed as illustrated in this extract from the 1987 Manifesto:

“Provision of child-care is a high priority. Our aim is a comprehensive, co-ordinated and flexible range of facilities to match the needs of parents and children in Manchester.

“We will extend and improve nursery school provision for under-fives, including a place in nursery education for all three year olds whose parents want one, and an offer of full time nursery education for all four year olds[1].

“We have begun a rolling programme of children’s centres, which will provide childcare for all who need it within a specific catchment area. This will be to match parents’ needs, sessional or full-time. The children’s centres will also provide after-school and holiday play facilities for children up to 11. They will be run on anti-sexist and anti-racist principles with local involvement in management and will be a community resource. The way in which these centres can best be used will be the subject of full consultations throughout the city and the Labour Party. We are:

  • working towards an integrated under-fives service,
  • supporting subsidised child-minding schemes and extending crèche facilities in colleges and council work-places,
  • looking at ways of improving/providing care for 5-11s after school and during holidays.”

Frances Done continued to chair the Under-Fives Working Party (in addition to chairing the Finance Committee) until she left the Council in May 1988, at which point Richard Leese took over (in addition to chairing the Education Committee).

In order to make progress on an integrated under-fives service, including the Social Services day nurseries and the Recreation Department’s play services, it was recognised that the Social Services and Leisure Services Committees would have to be formally involved. So, in September 1988, a decision was made to change the Under-Fives Sub-committee of the Education Committee into a Joint Standing Children’s Sub-committee, consisting of four councillors from the Education Committee, four from Social Services, four from Leisure Services, one from Personnel and one from Equal Opportunities.

There was still a need for the working party, since this had proved an effective means of cutting through the bureaucracy and getting things done behind the scenes. But there was such a proliferation of working parties that some rationalisation was needed. In addition to the Under-Fives Working Party and the Joint Play Working Party (see chapter 5), there was the Joint Use Working Party, which considered the co-ordination of the use of Council buildings by youth and community groups. These three were merged to form the Joint Working Party for Under-Fives and Play – abbreviated to Joint Children’s WP – which consisted of councillors and officers from Education, Social Services, Recreation and Equal Opportunities.

Combining All Services for Children
Although it was clear that the rolling programme of purpose-built children’s centres was going to be curtailed, work continued to identify potential sites. The St Peter’s Children’s Centre was up and running in the Town Hall, and in addition to the four in the process of being built in Rusholme, Benchill, Burnage and Old Moat, a sixth centre was planned for Alexandra Road in Moss Side. But this was likely to be the last, and so, as with the Neighbourhood Services programme, attention was turned to converting existing buildings[2].

In order to ensure as much democratic accountability as possible, each children’s centre was to have a management committee. These were similar to the schools’ governing bodies set up under the 1988 Education Reform Act, with representation from parents and members of the local community. This same model was encouraged for the seven nursery schools in the city too and the first one to set up a management committee in this way, in March 1989, was the Martenscroft Nursery School in Hulme[3].

Throughout 1988 and 1989, work was focused on the possibility of converting all Social Services day nurseries and free-standing nursery schools into children’s centres. The Social Services Committee agreed in principle in September 1988 to allocate the land adjacent to ten existing day nurseries to enable their conversion. But it took until October 1989 for the Finance Committee to agree the necessary finance to convert the first day nursery (Fox Grove Walk) into a children’s centre, and in the end this never actually happened.

This whole process, particularly the proposed future management of children’s centres by the Education Department, was met with great resistance from Social Services officers, but the politicians were clear in their resolve and in October 1989 the Social Services Committee agreed to transfer management of the St Peters Children’s Centre to the new Under-Fives Division of the Education Department.

In order to provide a lead officer to aid the progress towards an integrated under-fives and play service, and to manage the small team of officers overseeing the children’s centres development (Roger Jones plus 1.5 admin officers), a new post was established within the Education Department at grade PO6. The person appointed was Maggie Smith, who had been working at a less senior position in Bradford Council, and prior to that had worked for Gingerbread, a voluntary sector organisation working with single parents, co-ordinating its activities over nine local authority areas. She started work for Manchester in January 1990.

The first task set for Maggie Smith was to review all existing council services to children to assess which of them should be brought into the new Under-Fives Division. There were a total of 1,500 personnel across the Council involved in providing, or supporting, services to children, with a total salary bill of around £13 million. It quickly became apparent that many of them were very resistant to the idea of transferring ‘their’ particular service to this new division.

The most vociferous of these were the headteachers of the seven nursery schools who insisted “We will not become child-minders” and that the education of ‘their’ pupils would suffer if the nurseries’ links with the city’s primary schools were diminished.

The Social Services managers who ran the Council’s 25 day nurseries were also resistant to the idea of transferring to Education, which they thought would result in loss of links with social workers and diminish the care of ‘their’ children who were in need of protection. These staff were particularly bitter about the differences in pay and conditions between the day nursery managers and the managers in the new children’s centres. The latter were set at higher grades to reflect their different role and additional duties, such as managing before and after-school care and holiday schemes, and involving the local community. Despite this justification, the trade unions were furious about it and boycotted the first centre manager posts to be advertised. Eventually, though, NUPE gave up its objections and recruitment went ahead.

Further opposition came from a third group of staff facing transfer to the Education Department. The play workers in the recreation department believed that play was completely incompatible with education and that no other professionals could understand the personal play needs of children. They were concerned that decisions had already been taken by the Budget Review Working Party in March 1990 about the partial breakup of the Recreation Department (see chapter 18) and that Beehive clubs (play centres in parks, established in the 1980s and named after the former director of recreation, Roy Bee) and park play areas were to be transferred to the Under-Fives Division in Education without any consultation with them.

At the time, no other English local authority had created integrated services for children, but Strathclyde Council in Scotland had, so Maggie Smith and Richard Leese went on a fact-finding visit. In Strathclyde, the differentials in pay and working conditions between qualified teachers, nursery nurses and play workers had been removed by creating a single salary spine for all the staff who worked with children aged under five. The plan was for variations in entitlements such as holidays to be removed over time. This process had met with fierce, and very public, opposition from teacher trade unions and had led to strike action.

Richard decided not to pursue this route in Manchester and that staff should be transferred over on their originating pay, terms and conditions. He also felt that the transfers should not be delayed, and instructed Maggie Smith to prepare a report for the Education, Social Services and Recreation committees proposing a full managerial and staffing structure for the Children’s Services Division and outlining the scale of budgets to be internally transferred. A great deal of work went into putting together a viable staffing structure by an extremely dedicated personnel officer, Terry O’Neill.

After this report was agreed by the Social Services Committee in April 1990, a senior officer from the department commented to Maggie Smith that “children will die in Manchester” as result of transferring the day nursery services to Education, fearing that social workers would have less chance to refer at-risk children to the nurseries. In response, a survey of the city’s 25 day nurseries was undertaken to assess the number of at-risk children referred by social workers. It turned out to be fewer than 2%, because the nursery managers (called matrons) acted as ‘gate-keepers’ and often refused to place a child, citing arguments such as “We have too many two year olds at the present time.” A new procedure was therefore established to ensure that any disagreement between a social worker and a nursery manager about a placement would be referred to a senior manager to make the decision. Within 12 months, the average proportion of children present in day nurseries as a result of social work requests had risen to 10%, increasing further to 14% on average between 1991 and 1996.

Despite the fact that having an integrated service improved access for children and families in need of support, the new arrangements continued to be resisted by Council staff at all levels. This may have been because of professional jealousies, or just the natural resistance of employees to being moved around.

In May 1990, Val Edwards (see chapter 15) became Richard Leese’s deputy on the Joint Children’s Working Party (having been on the Under-Fives Working Party since she was first elected in 1987). Throughout the 1990/91 municipal year, there was a huge increase in the workload of both politicians and officers involved in co-ordinating, reviewing and improving Children’s Services during and following the transfers of under-fives and play services into the new Under-Fives Division.

Richard had also been elected as Chair of Finance Committee that May. This put him in a good position to ensure that Children’s Services were given central importance within the Council. But despite his position, there were continuing difficulties with the budget and the differentials in pay and conditions between staff working in different services.

Controversial Charging for Places
Because of the budget crisis (see chapter 18) it was necessary to find ways of generating income, so it was decided to ‘sell’ some childcare places to the private sector, allowing companies to pay for places for their employees, or allocate some places to fee-paying parents. This caused a huge row in the City Party with many delegates feeling passionately that all the places in these publicly-funded centres should be free and for Manchester residents only. A resolution was passed at the September 1990 City Party meeting instructing the Council not to pursue this option.

At this point, Graham Stringer stepped in and at the following month’s meeting he lambasted the delegates and made it clear that the resolution would not be followed. In his Labour Group report, in addition to reporting that three new children’s facilities were under construction and that there had been a 25% increase in under-fives places, he argued that there might have to be charges for all the places, if the commercial option wasn’t followed:

“At the last City Party meeting, a decision was taken not to allow commercial companies or City Council employees to take unused places at nurseries. These places are extra and if additional revenue is not raised in this way then the nursery places currently provided will be lost. Or, a universal charge will need to be made… Overall budget decisions about level of Poll Tax should not be undermined by emergency resolutions about an individual service.”

Graham’s reference to ‘unused’ or ‘extra’ places was to the 25% increase in the number of under-fives places during the previous five years, but there is no doubt that, in a different economic climate, these places could have been filled. However, the harsh financial realities meant that income had to be generated in order to keep the children’s centres from closing.

Registering and Inspecting Other Providers
In the autumn of 1990, the staffing structure for Children’s Services, incorporating play services and day nurseries, was formally agreed by the Policy and Resources Committee, together with a decision about transferring appropriate budgets across to Education. The Under-Fives Division of the Education Department was re-named Children’s Services to reflect the wider range of services it was taking on, and a new post of Head of Children’s Services was created. In February 1991, Maggie Smith was appointed (despite some stiff competition) to that post. Around the same time it was decided that the Joint Children’s Sub-committee should have responsibility for its own budget, although this proved to be extremely problematic.

In addition to taking over responsibility for the services previously run by other departments, the Children’s Services Division faced additional duties imposed by the 1989 Children Act. This gave local councils responsibility for registering and inspecting out-of-school services (including childminding) provided by the voluntary and private sector to children under the age of eight, and had to be fully implemented by 1991. The Social Services Department had a team of eight officers responsible for this work, and despite much opposition from them, they had transferred to Children’s Services. An early review demonstrated that they had inadequate, out-of-date records of how many childminders, playgroups, private day nurseries and out-of-school care and play services were operating in the city.

The team had claimed that there were 900 childminders, but the new re-registration process identified only 450. On the other hand, the review process found that the level of playgroup and other provision made by independent providers was twice that provided by the City Council. This led to a political commitment to improving the financial support and training for these providers, and the development of clear guidance on standards of care expected for all providers of services to children. The number of staff doing the registration and inspection of voluntary and private sector providers was increased by re-training play workers.

Joint Chairs and Administrative Sleight of Hand
Because of the way the existing local government legislation was framed – requiring the Social Services Committee to have responsibility for child welfare – the political decision making structure for Children’s Services was becoming problematic and so it was changed for the 1991/92 municipal year. It was agreed that the Social Services and Education Committees would each have a Children’s Sub-committee, but that these two would meet jointly (and in practical terms would be one sub-committee). The Chair of the Children’s Sub-committee of Education was Richard Leese, and the Chair of the Children’s Sub-committee of Social Services was Val Edwards. They were known as the ‘Joint Chairs’[4]. The drawback was that the sub-committees had to report back to the parent committees for formal decisions, although in practice, the Labour Group agreed that the parent committees would simply rubber-stamp the decisions. If there were any conflicts, these would be resolved at the Labour Group prior to the Council meeting. This had to be worded carefully (and formally) and so in June 1991 the Policy and Resources Committee recorded:

“Children’s Services Sub-committees of Education and Social Services to be established and meet jointly to receive joint reports from parent committees and give advice to parent committees on specific proposals relating to services to children.”

Although only one meeting was taking place, the Council minutes recorded a sub-committee of Education with Richard as chair (and Education Committee members attending) and a sub-committee of Social Services with Val as chair (and Social Services Committee members attending). The two sub-committees had identical minutes. It was an administrative nonsense that future researchers will no doubt puzzle over.

But despite this improved decision making position and greater understanding of the breadth of services, there were continuing difficulties with the budget (see later).

The Joint Children’s Working Party produced its final report for the Policy and Resources Committee in June 1991 and was then wound up. The Joint Chairs had frequent meetings with Maggie Smith and her officers, so there was no further need to have a formal working party, but the workload for the politicians and officers continued to be substantial.

Park Playgrounds and Play Provision
A review of play provision in the city revealed both positives and negatives. The 18 Beehive park play projects[5] were very well used, serving around 1,200 children in the city at a cost of only £300,000 a year (the cost of running just one day nursery), whereas a large proportion of the fixed playgrounds in the parks were derelict or in poor condition and many were actually unsafe for young children.

A full review of play areas and equipment in the city’s parks was led by the newly appointed Head of Play, Bev Noon, who developed a comprehensive play strategy (and curriculum) and worked up schemes for new play areas. However, she completely alienated politicians and playworkers and didn’t last very long in the job. On one occasion Bill Risby[6] arranged for her to visit one of the play areas in his ward to see the poor quality of the provision – there were only two pieces of equipment, one of which was an old wooden army tank. Bev jumped to the wrong conclusion and said she would have the tank removed immediately (being militaristic) and infuriated Bill because she failed to understand the issues he was pointing out. Her deputy, Alan Diamond, was an effective young officer who had much better social skills that enabled him to challenge the politicians if he thought they were wrong or were suggesting the impossible.

A large-scale programme of playground renewal was initiated – to be implemented over a number of years – with new, safe, brightly coloured and well-made equipment being installed as and when funding became available. Ironically, its implementation was assisted by the inefficient process of capital allocations (borrowing powers) that central government imposed on local government , which usually resulted in a small underspend on Education’s capital allocation at the end of every financial year. This would be lost if not used, so there was always a scramble to find small projects to use it up. The playground schemes were fully costed and planned and could be implemented quickly and so were ideal for slotting into the capital programme at the end of each financial year.

Other ways of funding the new play areas were sought, and the planning officers came up with an innovative suggestion of using ‘planning gain’[7]. This meant that, as a condition of being given planning permission, developers had to include aspects of benefit to the local community, and planning officers suggested the provision of children’s play areas would meet that requirement.

Playgrounds that were beyond repair were closed and some were moved to better sites where they could be overlooked by local residents. The closures caused local uproar (of course) and the joint chairs had to face meetings of irate residents and local councillors. But after the new areas began to appear, parents could see how much better it was to have fewer, high-quality, well-maintained play areas than a lot of unsafe, badly-equipped and old-fashioned playgrounds. Gradually, all of the parks had one of the new high-quality play areas and a proper regime of inspection and maintenance was established.

Chasing the Money
Roger Jones was very helpful in ferreting out sources of funding for Children’s Services projects, although this didn’t endear him to the Education Department’s Head of Finance, Jim Booth, who liked to keep things ‘close to his chest’. One of these related to the Cringle Fields Beehive, which was used by 700 children a week, but had no proper toilet, just an outdoor chemical loo that in summer was unsanitary and foul smelling. The play workers and local community lobbied for years to get a proper toilet and so Maggie Smith had despatched Roger to see what could be done. He discovered that the nearest mains sewer connection was half a mile away and that it would cost around £100,000 to install a properly-connected toilet. The planning officers told Roger that Jim Booth was keeping quiet about a £200,000 capital underspend and so Roger tipped off Richard Leese, who insisted on it being used for Cringle Fields. It not only covered the cost of the toilet, but a baby-changing area and small shower/bathroom. When it was all finished, Gerald Kaufman MP, who had been one of those writing letters in support of the community’s demands, performed an official opening ceremony.

As well as the big philosophical, educational and practical issues being dealt with, there was continuing frustration over the revenue budget overspends throughout the autumn of 1991. A serious problem was becoming apparent in that the budgets that had transferred over from the Social Services and Leisure Services Committees did not match the total costs of the services transferring. The Senior Personnel Officer charged with supporting the creation of the Children’s Services Division, Terry O’Neill, could identify the frontline staffing costs but was frequently told by the ‘sending’ departments that no administration costs – for example, payroll and other clerical support – existed for the services transferring over, so it was impossible to calculate the true service costs. Additionally, the salary grades of play workers were felt to be too low to reflect the importance of the work they were doing and, although there was a political commitment to improve them as soon as possible, the continuing budget problems made it impossible.

By December 1991, the correct amounts of money had still not been transferred to cover the associated costs of Children’s Services, causing a significant overspend in the Children’s Services budget. To the extreme annoyance of Richard Leese, the Chief Education Officer proposed that the shortfall of £500,000 inherited from 1991/92 should be cut from the Children’s Services budget for 1992/93.

A close investigation showed that a large part of the regular overspending resulted from maternity cover, for which there was no allocated budget. Given that a majority of the staff working in childcare were young women of child-bearing age, this was a significant amount. It later turned out that Social Services had had a separate budget to cover this expenditure, but had not transferred a proportion of it to Education. It never did get transferred, but Richard, in his role as Chair of the Finance Committee, was able to ensure that the shortfall was met from central reserves. An additional £500,000 was allocated to the Children’s Services budget for 1992/93 and beyond, but Richard was furious about the lack of openness from the Social Services Department.

By the time the sixth children’s centre was completed, in Moss Side, revenue cuts had to be made to Children’s Services and the decision was made, reluctantly, to close the Alexandra Park Day Nursery. The building was in a terrible condition and the children could all be transferred to the new centre, so there was no actual loss of service to the parents and children of the area. Although it was deeply upsetting to lose the chance of increased provision, this was one of the easiest cuts that had to made at the time. There was a big demonstration of parents and nursery workers on the day of the committee making cuts decisions – all screaming abusively at Richard Leese and the councillors – but this was the norm for many of the committees having to announce cuts.

Because, constitutionally, the Children’s Sub-committee was not empowered to control its own budget (being made up of a sub-committee of Education and a sub-committee of Social Services), it had to rely on the parent committees’ decisions. This wasn’t a satisfactory situation, so the City Solicitor was instructed to find way of giving the sub-committees financial autonomy. Eventually, in July 1992, a resolution gave them delegated powers, reporting directly to the full Council, although they were still shown in Council minutes as two different sub-committees when they were actually only one (as mentioned earlier).

Children in Need
During 1992/93, progress had to be made on implementing the section of the 1989 Children Act that dealt with ‘children in need’. The Act gave responsibility to local councils to co-ordinate a review of children in need on an inter-agency basis, involving Health, Education, Social Services and the private sector. Richard Leese gave Maggie Smith the task of leading the review, which annoyed the Social Services officers since they had expected to take the lead on it. This turned out to be a massive task that was fraught with conflict around the definition of a child in need. The problem was that, once the definition was accepted, each of the services would have to meet that defined need – within their existing resources – and that would be impossible if the definition was realistic. Since none of the services had the resources to meet the real need, there was never an agreed full definition of what ‘need’ actually meant, just some indicators.

Also during 1992/93, the issue of the lack of an explicit curriculum for under-fives was tackled by a working party of officers from across Education, Play and Daycare. New curriculum models were explored following detailed research into the development of children in children’s centres and those waiting for a place, and an agreed under-fives curriculum was adopted across all Children’s Services (including the voluntary sector).

In May 1993, a single position of Chair of Children’s Services was created by the Labour Group, with Val Edwards being elected to this position and Gerry Carroll, a relatively new councillor from Wythenshawe, as her deputy. The administrative nonsense of the joint sub-committees arrangement had to continue, this time with Val as the Chair of the Education sub-committee and Gerry as the Chair of the Social Services sub-committee, even though, as before, only one meeting was taking place.

Although Children’s Services were protected from the worst of the budget cuts because of their high political priority, there was continuing pressure to make savings and ensure value for money. So it was really infuriating for the politicians to be faced with the apparent disregard for prudence shown by some of the architects they employed. When the outside play area for the St Peter’s Children’s Centre was built, for example, the architects specified expensive Yorkshire stone (to match the Town Hall) along with a fancy pergola-style roof and circular fancy iron-work pictures painted in black with gold leaf paint trim, which although very attractive was also very expensive. They not only ‘wasted’ money on these unnecessary external features, but neglected to consider vital components to the design. For instance, there was no toilet included inside the play area, so nursery workers had to constantly traipse in and out of the main building with toddlers needing the loo until a toilet could be installed later, when the budget allowed.

In 1994, the Audit Commission published a report entitled ‘Seen But Not Heard’[8], which suggested that local authorities should develop a joint children’s strategy with other agencies sharing an interest in the wellbeing of children. In order to develop a joint strategy the Audit Commission Report suggested that:

“Needs must be defined and prioritised; and risk indicators should be identified and the extent of needs measured.”

Manchester’s Children’s Services Committee decided to commission an outside organisation to review its services to children and families in order to make further progress, and in September 1994 the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) took on this task. The brief given to the NCB was:

“to determine whether services are provided in the most effective way to meet the needs of children and families in Manchester and whether the current focus of limited resources available is the most appropriate.”

Manchester was the first local authority to commission a study of the effectiveness of the collaboration between Social Services and Education in relation to early years. After four months, the remit of the review was extended to cover the entire interface between the two departments in relation to children up to the age of 18. The NCB set up four task groups[9], which involved staff from both departments as well as the NCB, and over the six months of the study positive developments and policy proposals fed directly into the departments and made the research more of a dynamic, interactive process. The NCB’s report[10] stated that:

“Much has been achieved through Manchester’s pioneering work in integrating their early years services, but funding constraints mean that services are still far from universal, and there is still work to be done in strengthening the family support role of mainstream services. Manchester was one of the first, and is still one of only about 14 local authorities to have integrated its early years provision into one department (with the exception of nursery classes).”

The report went on to make 36 detailed recommendations, with the first being the development of a comprehensive strategy, in collaboration with the health authorities and trusts, and a clear analysis of the needs of the city’s children. It concluded that the potential for the future of Children’s Services in Manchester was good because of the determination of the elected members and the commitment and interest of staff. However, the report suggested that:

“To build on these foundations demands high morale, enthusiasm, flexibility of approach and a willingness to question traditional patterns. Historic demarcations must be challenged, and joint commissioning, planning, budgets, and assessment should become the norm.”

It also spelt out that there was a big gap between the vision of the Manchester councillors and the practical reality of achieving it in the face of at least two major obstacles – the weakness of its information and database, particularly within the Children and Families Division (CFD) of the Social Services Department, and the absence of existing policy within the CFD. In relation to the massive tasks ahead in developing a comprehensive strategy, and the shortage of finance to implement that strategy, the report recommended not embarking on a wholesale reorganisation or amalgamation of services, because that might create more problems than it would solve, but that all existing expenditure should be scrutinised to gain maximum value for money.

The Committee accepted all the recommendations and hosted a national conference to promote the work being done.

Restructuring the Nursery Service
In February 1996, a report was received from the district auditor following a year-long study of childcare and education for under-fives in Manchester that he had embarked on as a result of the Audit Commission publication referred to above. Among other things, he concluded that the cost per child in a nursery school was double that in a primary school’s nursery class. He also found that the costs per child were higher still in the Council’s day nurseries and children’s centres.

As mentioned previously, there were seven nursery schools in the city, providing a total of 510 places for children from the age of two. They were an anomaly that pre-dated nursery class provision and nationally were being closed down in favour of nursery classes in primary schools. Because they were staffed on the basis of teaching ratios they were a costly (and inappropriate) provision for two-year olds, with high overheads compared with the cost of nursery classes in infant or primary schools. In Manchester there were at that time more than 6,000 nursery class places, but this only made provision for around 70% of three and four-year olds. Given the financial climate and the wish to expand nursery provision (and ensure that provision was appropriate and equally available across the city), it was necessary to make some changes.

Preliminary consultations had been held during October-December 1994 with staff, trade unions and parents on the future of the nursery schools and the outcome had been reported to the Children’s Services Committee in March 1995. One of the outcomes of the consultation was that parents were very much in favour of retaining nursery ‘education’ and against the idea of substituting ‘day-care’, which was perceived as less effective and not providing the best start for later education. It was clear from the consultation that any threat of closure of a nursery school would be met with great hostility and so the issue was left in abeyance for a year.

However, in the light of the NCB and the district auditor’s reports, it was clear that the issue of nursery schools would need to be tackled. This was made even more urgent by the government’s proposed introduction of ‘nursery vouchers’. The first phase of the government scheme was going to be introduced in four local authorities from April 1996, with a view to it being rolled out everywhere, including Manchester, in April 1997[11]. Parents were to receive a voucher for £1,100 for pre-school ‘education’ for their four-year olds, and the total money spent on the vouchers was to be taken from local authority grants. Manchester Council was predicted to lose £7 million and needed to ensure, not only that Manchester parents used their vouchers for places in Manchester schools, but that the provision offered was as cost-effective as possible.

In May 1996, having completed my four-year term as Chair of the Education Committee and served a year as a backbencher, I was elected Deputy Chair of the Children’s Services Committee and so was involved with Val Edwards and Maggie Smith in the forthcoming nursery places review.

Maggie and the Chief Education Officer, Roy Jobson, met with the headteachers of the primary schools that would be involved, and with the teacher trade unions. The report to be considered by the Children’s Services Committee in June was circulated to the management committees of the seven nursery schools to allow them to comment on its proposals, and a series of consultation meetings was planned for the autumn to enable parents to make their views known before final decisions were made.

The committee report in June 1996 set out the proposals, which it emphasised would increase the overall level of provision, whilst not increasing the budget requirement. It was also emphasised that any savings arising from the reorganisation would be used to cover any salary protection costs that might be incurred, and the costs of any building adaptations needed. If any savings accrued after all the costs had been met, this money would be transferred to the general schools budget to enable further expansion of nursery education.

The proposals made were significantly different for each of the seven nursery schools (see Appendix 17B for details) and we felt as politicians that they were eminently reasonable and sensible. Only two of the schools were proposed for outright closure. In three cases it was proposed to significantly expand the level of provision and for the other two, only a change of management responsibility to a nearby primary school was proposed. The ‘education’ provision for two-year olds would be phased out in favour of ‘day-care’. In all, there would be 610 nursery places after the reorganisation at a total estimated cost of £1.08 million, compared with the existing cost of £1.726 million for the 510 places in the seven nursery schools.

In an attempt to circumvent the inevitable outcry about ‘closures’, Val and I wrote to every member of the Labour Group and the City Party explaining the background to the review and giving a summary of where the additional nursery places would be. We included the following points in our letter:

“Educational standards are just as good in nursery classes as in nursery schools and there are clear advantages from the point of view of transition and curriculum continuity when the nursery class is part of the infant/primary school. When there isn’t enough money available for all three to four-year olds, we can’t afford to pay for teaching ratios for two-year olds…

“The capital receipts from the two sites proposed for closure will pay for modifications needed in some of the primary schools and may cover other building improvements…

“We are spending £0.5 million on salaries for heads and deputies, secretaries and additional teachers for two-year olds (equivalent to the [total] running costs for two 50-place day nurseries for 50 weeks…

“These proposals increase the total number of places without sacrificing the quality of provision… Additional 100 places – 60 in the centre, 40 in the south (20 in Wythenshawe).”

Eight meetings were held – one dealing with each of the schools plus one in the Town Hall – with Children’s Services officers and councillors attending (at least two at each one, but three at the ones anticipated to be more controversial) to present the proposals and answer questions. Val and I each attended six of the meetings, accompanied by other councillors from the committee. (Vince Young attended three, Mark Hackett attended two and Bernard Stone attended two.) It was made clear that the meetings were for parents and management committee members, but not for staff, as their interests were not necessarily the same as the parents and they had opportunities to comment via their trade unions.

Despite the initial hostility and suspicion that decisions had already been made, the consultation was very successful and, mostly, the proposals were agreed, albeit with some modifications (see Appendix 17B). The outcome was a significant expansion in the number of nursery places available, at no additional revenue or capital cost.

However, the consultation for the nursery school in Graham Stringer’s ward (Barnes Green in Harpurhey) was not straightforward. We had thought this was one of the least controversial, in that it was next door to Harpur Mount Primary School, which had no nursery class. This meant that the only real change, after the physical adaptations to the school building, would be the transfer of management responsibility (and budget) to the school, with no reduction in the number of nursery places. Because of this we hadn’t arranged a strong councillor presence at the meeting. Val had intended to be there but wasn’t well on the night, so Maggie Smith was left to cover it on her own.

Meanwhile, Margaret Hodge MP, then shadow minister for children, was visiting Manchester. Graham Stringer had invited her to the meeting, giving her a very biased briefing beforehand to the effect that we were closing all the nursery schools. Both she and Graham gave Maggie a really tough time at the meeting. Graham followed this up with a letter to her, from him as Leader, rather than in his role as a local councillor, to try to prevent the changes.

Val was furious. While it was entirely legitimate for a local councillor to make a case to the chair of the relevant committee to protect something in their ward, it was not at all legitimate for the Leader to use his position to browbeat an officer of the Council. Val sent him a reply – addressed to the ‘local councillor for Harpurhey’ and set out all the reasons why he was being unreasonable. Fortunately, the other Harpurhey councillors, Pat Karney and Nilofar Siddiqi, agreed with the proposals.

Val had previously experienced a similar problem with Graham in relation to a voluntary play-scheme in Harpurhey. As part of the city-wide review of play-schemes, it was discovered that this scheme was badly run and not meeting the needs of local children. It was therefore proposed for closure. Because of Graham’s objections, a committee visit had been arranged and afterwards, Gerry Carroll, as Deputy Chair of the committee, said that even if the committee had £1 million to spend on play-schemes (which it obviously didn’t) he wouldn’t recommend spending a penny on the Harpurhey project. Even with this condemnation, Graham was reluctant to accept the decision. As part of that review of play-schemes, grant aid was focused more acutely for play groups and play-schemes and greater financial support was given to childminders.

Part of the debate around the reorganisation of nursery education concerned the issue of the appropriate age for a child to start school. The Tory government was pushing for admission at the age of four, but prevailing wisdom within childcare was that children needed a play environment rather than formal structured learning in the classroom until as late as possible. The European model of kindergarten until the age of seven was very much favoured, but impossible to introduce at local level without national legislation. However, even within the legislation of ‘rising fives’ admission, there was room for disagreement. Most schools admitted children into the reception class at the start of the term in which they would have their fifth birthday, but this meant that the summer-born children had only one term of preparation before moving on to the formal first year, putting them at a distinct disadvantage. This is still a live issue in this country.

In 1996, having worked herself into the ground, Maggie Smith was granted medical retirement. An external recruitment process was begun for a new Head of Children’s Services. Vicky Rosin, previously Head of the Enforced Tendering Team, was appointed to take over.

In May 1997, Val Edwards had completed her four years as Chair and Martin Pagel and I stood for election to the position. At the City Party hustings and nomination meeting, Martin got two more votes than me. Val was convinced that I would win the election at the Labour Group, having been Deputy for a year and previously Chair of Education, but I obeyed the convention that the Group should follow the Party’s nomination and decided not to stand. Eileen Kelly was elected as Martin Pagel’s deputy.

All the evidence gathered from the reviews of every service delivered to children was shared with other local authorities and with the Labour Party’s Social Justice Commission, and after Labour’s general election victory in 1997, Manchester’s ‘model’ was adopted and implemented nationwide.


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Editor’s Comments

The editing of this chapter has mostly been typographical and adding of sub-headings, but it has felt a little bit of a wrestle to get to grips with it. I have added some of the footnotes, in some case taking out things in parentheses and in other cases for clarification. I reworded the paragraph about providing playground equipment as part of planning gain and added the footnote about Section 106 agreements. I ended up looking up a lot of the legislation referred to, so have added all of the things I found in the Further Reading section.


[1] At the time, this seemed like ‘pie in the sky’ to some of us, but it was implemented nationally by the Labour government in 1997

[2] The first of the purpose-built children’s centres (in Rusholme) was opened in March 1989, and the final staffing structure for all the centres was approved that month by the Policy and Resources Committee. The capital works for the Moss Side Children’s Centre were agreed in September 1989.

[3] Nursery schools were not included in the 1988 Act. The seven nursery schools were Ancoats, Barnes Green, Collyhurst, Gresty, Martenscroft, Mayfair and Shakespeare (see later)

[4] See Appendix 17A for the list of chairs and deputies of the Children’s Service Committee 1990-1997.

[5] Mentioned earlier, the Beehive clubs were play centres in parks, established in the 1980s and named after the former director of recreation, Roy Bee.

[6] Bill Risby is mentioned a lot in chapters 1 and 2.

[7] Planning gain is an obligation on a developer, placed as part of the planning permission granted by a local authority, to include improvements that would make a positive contribution to the local area and community. This is covered by Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and generally referred to as a Section 106 agreement. Usually it is used for making up adjoining roads, roundabouts, crossings, street lighting and landscaping.

[8] Full title on the cover is ‘Seen But Not Heard – Co-ordinating Community Child Health and Social Services for Children in Need – Detailed Evidence and Guidelines for Managers and Practitioners’, Audit Commission, 1994. It is a 100 page document and was available, as of March 2016, as a PDF download from the National Archive.

[9] 1) Children and young people with disabilities; 2) Inter-agency arrangements for child protection; 3) Inter-relationship of Children and Families Division (CFD) and the Education Department provision for children away from home; 4) Inter-relationship between the Children’s Services Department and the services of CFD for young children.

[10] ‘Championing Children’ by John Rea and Gillian Pugh. Pub. NCB Autumn 1995

[11] Introduced as part of the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996, withdrawn later in 1997 by the new Labour government.

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Further Reading

These links are on the subject of national legislation relating to children from the period:

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