The centre is a vital service in enabling parents to work. It currently provides affordable childcare at a rate of £1.50 per child per day. T he Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has only offered a three-month emergency package after the Department of Health cut funding to the project. At a packed public meeting held in September to save the centre, it was the view of the local community that the cuts need to be stopped.
A committee was established at the meeting to develop a plan and build the campaign. But this committee has been dominated by politicians from the parties in power in Stormont who voted through cuts which have led to funding being withdrawn from the centre.
Instead of coming up with a strategy to build a campaign against the cuts in funding, the politicians have concentrated on putting together a “self-sustainability plan” which would mean introducing a 300% hikes in charges for parents who use the service from £1.50 a day to £5 a day / £100 a month.
UUP MLA “Sir” Reg Empey is one of the politicians arguing for this approach and is using the issue to have an opportunistic go off the other Assembly parties, even though it was his colleague Health Minister Michael McGimpsey who withdrew the funding! In a statement he pushed this idea stating “It is ludicrous that Playzone are not being given the same opportunity as the other clubs to put together a business model that will see them move towards self-sustainability.”
The Socialist Party is completely opposed to this approach; this is not fighting the cut in funding but just finding another way of introducing the cut. The Assembly parties on the committee are in reality asking working people to accept the withdrawal in funding from the Assembly Executive and fund the centre out of their own pockets. It is simply making working class families pay more due to their cuts.
Ballymacarrett is one of the most deprived communities in Western Europe. People simply cannot afford to spend £100 a month on childcare. The local community has been hit hard recently with the closure of Beechfield Primary school and Ballymacarrett Library nearby. It is also anti-democratic of the Assembly parties to sidetrack the campaign, ensuring there is no effective campaign through mobilising the local community to fight the cuts. The campaign to save the Ballymac Playzone Centre must be democratically controlled and run by the local community and the workers who face losing their jobs. In the run-up to elections next May, all the parties in the Executive should be put under intense pressure to guarantee permanent funding for this essential service.