A NURSERY faces closure in a row with Tameside Council over rent and electricity bills, with claims bailiffs threatened to evict children being denied.
Banana Moon, which operates out of Bayley Hall inside Hyde Park, says it will shut its doors on Friday, October 13 because of the financial dispute.
Electricity bills being paid in lieu of rent seems to be the central cause of the issues, with claims of verbal agreements.
They say they are ‘humbled’ by the response of parents and the local community and called on Tameside to ‘take responsibility for their actions.’
However, the authority has hit back at claims made by the nursery, which said in a statement: “We opened in 2015, renting the building from Tameside Council.
“Before opening, we were unaware that the electric meters within the basement of the nursery building covered the whole of Hyde Park.
“This includes the lights, bowling green, bandstand and toilets. This amounted to a monthly electricity bill of £3,210.
“We have requested that Tameside Council resolve the electric service numerous times. However, in the meantime, we came to a verbal agreement that we would pay the electric bill in lieu of rent.
“We were in an impossible position, as we cannot operate without electricity.
“Our quarterly rent would have been E6,500 — we have essentially been paying c.£12,000 each quarter to cover rent, our electricity and the entire park’s electricity for the last eight years.
“We have also paid our business rates and have proof of payment for this and the electricity bills.
“On September 6, with no prior notice, enforcement officers arrived at the nursery, informing us that Tameside Council were taking us to court for not paying rent and threatening to remove the children from the premises.
“In order to safeguard our children, we had to pay over E50.000 on the spot in order for the bailiffs to leave.
“Following this incident, Tameside Council verbally told us they had resolved the issues and the bailiffs would not be returning, with no mention of the £50,000 payment being rightfully returned.
“However, on September 15, we were informed by the Head of Education that we had to tell parents and staff that we have to close the nursery due to the ongoing issues.”
Banana Moon cares for 100 children from the Hyde area but staff say they are ‘heartbroken to be ending our journey and seeing parents and children facing a stress of finding alternative childcare at such short notice.
However, when asked by The Correspondent, Tameside Council portrayed a different tale – despite admitting it agreed to the electricity bills-for-rent arrangement.
In response to Banana Moon’s statement, it said: “The council is in dispute with Banana Moon nursery – which is a private business and the tenant of the property – over the non-payment of rent and business rates.
“We would not be taking the action we have taken unless there was a significant reason for doing so.
“Despite an overpayment of electricity which has been taken in lieu of rent, the nursery is unfortunately still in significant rent and business rates arrears which it has informed us it is not in a position to pay.
“We value all early education highly and have worked closely with the nursery – which is a private business – to try to ensure continued provision of children’s early education and care while time is given for alternative arrangements to be made for the children who currently attend the nursery.
“Parents and carers who need support, including finding suitable alternative settings for their children, can contact the council’s Family Information Service on 0161 342 4260.”
In relation to the claims regarding bailiffs, it added: “Despite lengthy recovery processes, no payments were forthcoming until enforcement action taken and bailiffs were instructed and attended the nursery premises.
“However, we can confirm that neither the council nor enforcement officers would ever remove children from a nursery building as part of the process of recovering debt.”
And when pressed by The Correspondent on whether agreements were verbal, and not in writing like many standard business arrangements, it pointed out: “There is a legally binding lease registered with the Land Registry, which anyone can access on payment of a nominal fee.
“Clearly, business rates are set by valuation office not the council, although we collect business rates for central government.”