AN INVESTIGATION has been published into the closure of a nursery which received £245,000 worth of taxpayers’ money.

Sprouts Nursery on Rhosddu Road, Wrexham, closed its doors in September 2017 despite being given £155,000 in Welsh Government funding, as well as about £90,000 from Wrexham Council.

It led to a scrutiny committee being asked to examine the reasons behind the local authority’s decision that the nursery was unsustainable, which it made in a meeting held behind closed doors amid claims it was losing £5,000 a month.

The council has now admitted that there are lessons to be learnt from the loss of the service, which provided full day care for up to 40 children after it opened in 2015.

In a report, Cllr Phil Wynn, lead member for education, has highlighted concerns over the lack of analysis carried out before a business plan was submitted.

He said: “The Childcare Sufficiency Assessment (2014) had identified that a number of parents reported that they would appreciate childcare being more flexible, and operating at hours outside of current childcare provision in the area.

“It was proposed that Sprouts could go some way to improving this situation for families in Wrexham, by providing flexible childcare.

“Whilst the business case makes clear links with the evidence from the CSA, it does not include any additional or further research e.g. with the childcare market to strengthen the initial evidence gathered.

“Had more detailed stakeholder analysis been undertaken, it may have provided additional evidence to be considered alongside the evidence within the CSA, and inform the decision-making about Sprouts.

“It would also undoubtedly have gone some way to address the concerns raised by key stakeholders throughout the project.”

However, he said that it was not clear whether the extra information would have had any influence over whether or not the Sprouts project went forward.

The report also raises issues with governance arrangements and a lack of close working between the lifelong learning department which oversaw it and colleagues in childcare.

Cllr Wynn added: “The project may have benefitted from more clearly defined roles and levels of responsibility from the outset.

“This may have assisted in ensuring that potential issues were identified and addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.

“The project was managed within lifelong learning and may have benefitted from closer working or partnership arrangements with colleagues more directly linked to the provision of childcare.

“It is important to note that Wrexham Council’s project management process has now been revised to include a step-by-step handbook for all projects, with quarterly monitoring by senior management team.”

At the time of the nursery’s closure the council’s head of education, Ian Roberts, wrote a letter to parents outlining the reasons for the closure.

In it he admitted that the authority was no longer able to provide financial support.

He said: “It is with regret that I have to inform you that as a result of ongoing concerns about the future sustainability of Sprouts children’s nursery, a decision has been made by the council’s executive board to close Sprouts.

“Despite the best efforts of staff and managers to develop and deliver a comprehensive childcare provision in the town centre, it has become clear that the model is unsustainable without financial support from the council but unfortunately the council is not able to offer this support.”

The report will be considered by members of the employment, business and investment scrutiny committee next Wednesday (DEL 5 September 2018).

Councillors are being asked to come up with recommendations based on the information in the report.