Nursery funding cuts upheld

Posted: 7th October 2013

PlaygroundFour mothers who fiercely objected to Sheffield City Council’s withdrawal of subsidies from 20 independent nurseries in some of the city's most deprived areas have failed in a judicial review challenge.

The High Court acknowledged that some of the nurseries may be forced to close and that, 'in an ideal world', they would be given all the funding they needed. However, in upholding the council’s decision, it noted that economic realities had to be faced and that even services of great social value sometimes had to be sacrificed.

The mothers had attacked the cuts as irrational, unfair, and in breach of the council's duty to have due regard to equality rights and the well-being of thousands of children. Their legal team argued that the council was being 'unduly protective' of its own, in-house, early years services, had failed to put the 'social value' of the nurseries properly into the balance and had reached an 'irrational' conclusion.

Dismissing their complaints, the Court noted that that, although the mothers genuinely believed the council's decision was 'wholly wrong', there was no evidence that any 'darker motive' lay behind the cuts. The Court rejected claims that the council had 'impermissibly distorted the outcome of its decision-making process in a way calculated to preserve funding for itself as opposed to the nurseries.'

The council had carried out a thorough consultation exercise before reaching its decision and had met all its statutory equality and child care duties, as well as its obligation to ensure that it obtained 'best value' for public money.

The Court concluded: "The 20 nurseries which are affected by this decision, which provide valuable facilities to the families which they serve, are to be commended on the contribution they have made and continue to make to their local communities. I hope that, despite the termination of the subsidies, they are all able to survive and flourish, but I must recognise that some may not.

"In an ideal world, it would not be necessary to make hard choices about the distribution of funds between competing but thoroughly meritorious causes but, particularly in the present economic climate, sacrifices even of highly socially desirable initiatives are sometimes unavoidable.

“Councils are democratically elected to make decisions and some of these are bound to be contentious and unpopular. Ultimately, however, the decision in this case, controversial as it undoubtedly was, complied with the standards imposed by public law and must remain undisturbed”.