Friday 1 July 2011

H&F Sure Start cuts defeated in Court

Kids present Cathnor Park Sure Start Manager, Christine Whisker, with a collection of thank you & goodbye messages for all the staff, from children that use the centre, yesterday

H&F Council has been defeated in this morning's judicial review hearing into the closure of Cathnor Park Sure Start Centre according to those connected to the campaign who have contacted me with news from the courtroom.

I reported here this morning about how our Council stood accused by MP Andy Slaughter of bringing the closure of the centre forward by a week in an attempt to undermine the legal bid. It now appears that the judge involved in this morning's hearing was impressed by the case brought by a mother whos children use Cathnor Park and ordered a rethink. The Council's legal team have apparently caved in and agreed a new contract with provider Vanessa Nurseries on a contract involving far more money than was allowed under our Council's cuts programme.

This isn't just a victory for families affected by one centre - it has very large implications for the rest of the Council's Sure Start cuts and will almost certainly be used as a precedent. One mother from another of the centres has told me this afternoon they intend to bring more court actions in the near future.

More to follow

1415 UPDATE - ooh, and there is more. I've just had a call from the Council's press office and they have a very different take on affairs. As far as they are concerned the Council has emerged from the hearing with the judge having declared that the appeal was "groundless". They claim that the agreement with Vanessa Nurseries was always part of the plan and that what happened in court was simply a "confirmation" of how many sessions would be provided at the Centre.

So in other words we have both sides claiming victory!

1450 UPDATE - Well it seems the Council has been spinning a little bit according to Andy Slaughter and the campaigning mothers. I'm told by our MP that Leigh Day & Co, the mothers solicitors, brought the judicial review in the High Court on behalf of a mother whose child attended the Cathnor Park Children’s Centre (a Phase 1 SureStart centre in an area of high deprivation).

In court, the judge indicated he felt the case was meritorious. The Council then agreed to sign a contract they had already produced, accepting all terms in the judicial review application. The JR was withdrawn as a result.

A spokeswoman for the mums, Ruth Walsh who gave a very moving interview to this blog about their campaign said:
“This proves it is possible for ordinary people to make a difference. 
“When a small group of committed mums, dads and carers came together here in Hammersmith & Fulham, we were able to get the Council to make concessions. 
“It’s a shame that one of us had to take them to court to do it, but this proves it is possible.”
Local MP, Andy Slaughter, who campaigned with the mums in their battle against the Council, said:
“This Tory-led government and their cronies in Hammersmith & Fulham Council should be ashamed of themselves. 
“They promised to protect SureStart but slyly gave the green light to Councils to start cutting. 
“Hammersmith & Fulham Council, run by good mates of the Prime Minister and Boris, couldn’t run a chip shop, let alone educational services for thousands of young people in the borough.”
The local media have not yet caught up with this story but when they do I do hope they report all sides... I have asked for Council reaction which I'll post here soon

1700 UPDATE - The Fulham Chronicle has caught up with this story here - you know where you (and they) read it first folks..

1720 UPDATE - The Council have given me their first official response to the story, which is thus: "The claim that Cathnor Park centre has closed is simply not true. There are no plans to close Cathnor Park."

Which as you'll have guessed isn't really the point. And to illustrate this one of the Dads of Cathnor Park has also given me a rather more informative statement. Here's what Danny Lang, also involved in the campaign has to say:
"LBHF circulated a copy of the draft service level agreement this morning which had not been agreed upon and signed by Vanessa Nursery 's governors. In its agreed form it would have answered the requirements of the woman bringing the case, but as it was unsigned and apparently not close to being agreed by the Nursery a decision was taken to proceed. Justice Collins indicated that the Hammersmith resident had an arguable case and the Council grudgingly made concessions. The Council agreed to provide essentially the same services as are currently provided at the Centre rather than proceed to a full hearing, where the Cathnor Park mum's lawyers would have called the consultation process and equality impact assessment into question".

The Council has agreed the following: 
"The Council is prepared to secure delivery of 9 sessions per week at Cathnor Park for 48 weeks per year each session being at least 1.5 hours in line with the indicators and outcomes in paragraph 3.2 of Schedule 1 to the draft contract with Vanessa Nursery"
"We understand the Council's initial funding was only sufficient to cover 2 sessions a week at Cathnor Park".
So in other words the Council has had to concede everything the parents were asking for and this is why their children will now get the funded support they need and they have withdrawn their Court application. A clear win and one with implications for the other Sure Start centres that have lost similar levels of funding recently.

And just another plug - if you want to know why all of this matters so much - read this emotional article on the Blog with one of the mothers speaking to me about their campaign. Seeing that level of commitment is what keeps me putting the time into writing this blog sometimes. 


  1. Quite simple - if there's more money going in than was allowed, it's a victory for the campaigners, if there isn't it's a vindication of the legality of the council's action. Also, if there are more court actions as a result, it's not really a win for the council, and they're spinning.

    The actual judgement wording will give us a clue as to the way the case went, for that matter, judges tending to be quite careful choosers of words and well capable of sending a message out (to judges in future cases, for one).

  2. How about a quote from the judge's decision if it can be obtained. I don't for a second trust Slaughter. Shepherd's Bush was run into the ground under him while building up huge debt. Of course, it is a good thing that the mums are happy. I support their cause. I just don't support Slaughter's political point scoring.

  3. Hiya - I think at this point all sides seem to be putting forward conflicting accounts so yes, will post judges' words when I get them

  4. I hope that the Council will somehow start getting the hint that running roughshod over people isn't going to cut it in the short or long run