Town Hall stands by consultation process as children’s centre campaigners ramp up legal threat

Protesters on the Town Hall steps. Photograph: Suzanne Trotter

Hackney Council has defended its consultation process after parents fighting the closures of two children’s centres formalised their threat of legal action.

Campaigners recently sent the council a letter before claim, putting it on notice that court proceedings may be brought against it.

Lawyer Alex Rook, a partner at Rook, Irwin, and Sweeney, is representing the families.

He told the Citizen: “The main issue our clients have with the consultation is that it is predicated on the fact that Hackney says that they have to make these savings.

“However, we believe this is misleading, and that’s reflected within the consultation.”

Hackney Council is proposing to close Fernbank in Stoke Newington and Haggerston’s Sebright if no alternative provider can be found.

Hillside children’s centre in Clapton and Old Hill children’s centre in Stamford Hill face being reduced to term-time-only childcare services.

In the letter, one parent described the children’s centres services as “life-saving”.

Rook continued: “[The consultation] starts from a position of fact that they have to make the savings here, when in fact, they could be made elsewhere, or not at all, for example by dipping into their reserves in order to save these essential services.”

In February, Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley said “difficult decisions had to be made” due to the “destabilising” impact that 14 years of austerity has had on councils.

Hackney Council has responded in writing to the letter before claim, saying it does “not accept your criticisms of the consultation, and considers that the consultation was fair and lawful”.

It goes on: “The council does consider it necessary to achieve savings in the children’s service in order to reduce its overall funding gap.

“Identifying a need to deliver savings does not suggest that such savings are inevitable and unavoidable. Nor does it necessarily imply that no alternative is available.”

The letter before claim criticises Hackney Council’s lack of transparency over its use of a report by Ernst and Young, which it commissioned in 2023 to deliver an independent review of the borough’s nursery provision.

The council also rejects this criticism.

Rook said campaigners are currently deciding if they wish to go ahead with a claim for judicial review.