Parents and staff have told of their fear and fury as a college nursery is set to be closed at the end of the year.

The Cumbernauld nursery at New College Lanarkshire, along with the one at the Coatbridge campus, were earmarked for closure at the end of the last school year.

Over 30 members of staff at the two nurseries were facing the prospect of redundancy or redeployment, but it was announced that the closures would be "paused" until the end of the year to "provide time and space to further explore the ways in which we might operate our nurseries differently".

Staff said they were led to believe that the private company which operates New College Lanarkshire's nursery on the Motherwell campus, and is a subsidiary of the college, would take over from January 1, but were informed last week that the nurseries would close.

Parents were told "significant financial challenges" meant it was "impossible to sustain" operating costs, which the college put at £1million for the past three years.

New College Lanarkshire said: "This decision was only reached after a substantive and wide-reaching six-month review involving staff, trade unions and external advisers. The NCL Board wished to ensure the college had explored every viable option before reaching any conclusions. "

A letter to parents said the "first option" had been "to look at a possible takeover of the nursery by Amcol, a charity which operates the nursery on the NCL Motherwell campus".

The Herald:

New College Lanarkshire is the parent company of Amcol Scotland Ltd, a limited company with charitable status, which reported a surplus of £331,478 in its most recent accounts. Those accounts also set out plans to seek "expansion opportunities within the Lanarkshire and Glasgow areas".

However, the letter sent to parents stated that Amcol had found the current business model of the nursery was "not viable", and stated "it is highly unlikely that Amcol will be in a position to assume responsibility for the Cumbernauld campus before early summer 2024".

A staff member at the nursery told The Herald: "We were led to believe that a company called Amcol were going to take over.

“We were due to close in June, and they’d given us a reprieve until December 31. We were led to believe that this six months would give Amcol the time to make a takeover.

“Nothing was definite, it wasn’t in writing, but that’s what we were led to believe.

“We were just told on Tuesday that it was a definite no and we were closing on December 31, the reason behind that is that Amcol are still interested but to be honest what I think they want to do is cut the contracts of the members of staff so they don’t need to TUPE us over."

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Ashleigh Murphy, whose three-year-old son attends the nursery, has similar fears.

She said: "When I went in the staff had the conversation with me that they were due to close in December, but what had been said to them by senior management was that there looked likely to be a smooth transition of ownership and the nursery would remain open.

"It sounds very much like they want to re-allocate staff into jobs which have nothing to do with their training or experience and re-hire people cheaply.

“It was pushed as a smooth transition, just last week I went in and asked about the nursery hours because I’d put my son in 9-3.

“I was asking if they did extended hours and they said come January they might be able to because of the sale and it was looking to be quite smooth, so it wouldn’t be before December but come January when they were back they might be able to operate with extended hours.

“These are managers in the nursery, intelligent people who have done their job for years, they wouldn’t feed us that information if they didn’t believe it and hadn’t had that information given to them by senior management."

The Herald approached New College Lanarkshire to ask whether an Equality Impact Assessment had been carried out before the decision was taken to close the nursery, and if they could allay staff fears over TUPE.

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A spokesperson said a "detailed response" would "have to wait" as the college was closed for a bank holiday. Staff at the nursery said they were "not aware" of any such assessment being carried out but could not say one hadn't been.

Ms Murphy said: "My son has settled there. Like so many children born in early 2020 to now they’ve grown up through Covid and had a lot of disruption in their wee lives already.

“For him to go in there and settle and enjoy it then have to change nursery – this is disruption that these kids don’t need.

“They’ve had enough of it, they need that consistency. I work with early years and I’m fully aware of all the milestones we’re trying to hit and the developmental needs at these ages.

“These decisions are being made by people who have no idea about what impact this could have on small children.

I’ve just taken a new job, and if I don’t get a nursery placement quite promptly is there any point in my taking that job?

“At the meeting they said they'd[ in contact with the council and there are places locally but where are these places? How feasible is it for parents to put another half an hour on the front end or the back of their day to get to the nursery they’re allocated to? Is there a reason these nurses are sitting with empty spaces?

"For me personally it’s a question of – can I take this job?

"There are girls who are going to college courses and questioning whether they can continue with them.

“I came out of the meeting with college management thinking that we are looked at like dirt on their shoes, they’re going to earn whatever they earn regardless of what they do."

A member of staff at the nursery said: "I don’t think they’ve been fair on students and we have private parents who use the facility too, it’s not just all students.

“I think what they’ve done is really below the belt, there’s no consideration for anybody.

"No-one wants the place to be closed, some of us have been here for more than 20 years and the way we’ve been treated is pretty bad.

“I’m not sure where we go from here, the parents are going to put up a fight and we’ll back them – we’re all 100% on the same page."

Approached by The Herald for comment, New College Lanarkshire responded with a copy of the letter it had sent to parents.

The letter, on behalf of deputy principal for students and the curriculum Ann Baxter, says: "The college has committed to operating the nursery until 31st December 2023 and we will continue to consider any feasible options put forward up until that date.

"I appreciate and am deeply sorry for the disruption, anxiety and upset this situation has caused parents, guardians, children and staff. I will keep you informed of any developments, information or support which we can offer in the coming weeks."

It said that it would "extend the offer to other interested organisations" to see if another operator would be willing to take over the operation of the nursery.