THE LEADER of Wrexham Council has rejected calls to apologise over claims the authority wasted public money by running a loss-making nursery.

Sprouts Nursery on Rhosddu Road in Wrexham closed its doors in September 2017 amid reports the council-led service was losing £5,000 a month.

The move came despite it being given £155,000 in Welsh Government  grant funding, as well as about £150,000 in revenue support from the authority since it opened in 2015.

Scrutiny commitee members met on Wednesday to discuss the problems which led to the decision that the nursery was no longer viable.

During the meeting, lead member for education, Cllr Phil Wynn admitted lessons needed to be learnt from the lack of analysis contained in the business plan for the service, which provided full day care for up to 40 children after it opened in 2015.

But Cllr Marc Jones, whose ward the nursery was within, said the report he presented did not go far enough and called on officers and executive board members to apologise.

He said: “Despite using public money to undercut existing provision, it lost money in the first year, it lost money in the second year, but only closed down after last year’s election.

“My understanding is that it was kept open to save the blushes of certain councillors who had pushed this through. If that’s the case, that’s shameful.

“At a time when this executive board is cutting services, it seems we were willing to throw good money after bad into Sprouts, even after we knew it was losing thousands a month.

“We have to ask that the executive board and senior officers hold their hands up and apologise for the public money wasted, the apprentices who were let down, the other practitioners who were discounted and those dissenting voices that were ignored or silenced.”

But council leader Mark Pritchard denied that the council had anything to apologise for.

His comments came despite some councillors raising concerns that expert opinions on whether the nursery should be opened were ignored before it launched.

He said: “I don’t think we’ve got nothing to apologise for, because when we became aware of it, we took hold of it and we closed it.

“We were told the business case was solid, sound and would deliver what we wanted within that project.

“It’s proved to be the wrong decision because the market wasn’t there and we had to subsidise it.

“We can’t afford to subsidise a service, when we’ve got a private sector that can deliver that service.”

Cllr Wynn said over the years the nursery was open, it ‘became obvious’ that demand for it did not exist to the extent an assessment led the council to believe.

He added that it was the ‘right and decisive’ decision to close it.

He said: “I could not defend the running of a public sector entity that was in direct competition with private sector.

“We will learn lessons going forward and I hope we will never repeat the shortcomings which led to that.”

Cllr Jones questioned whether there was a danger that Welsh Goverment could ask for grant money to be returned.

However, he was told that because the building was now being used as a family centre, government officers appeared to be satisfied.

Cllr Jones also denied claims made by Cllr Wynn that he was asking ‘politically driven’ questions to embarass the authority.

He said: “On the matter of political point scoring, I think this was a perfectly valid topic request form and it was perfectly valid to ask about how the money was used.”

Councillors voted to note several changes made to project management arrangements in the wake of the nursery’s closure, and said future projects should ensure all necessary consultation is carried out with stakeholders beforehand.