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More than one in eight Suffolk childcare providers have closed in last three years

PUBLISHED: 10:56 14 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:29 14 September 2018

More than one in eight childcare providers have closed since 2015 Stock image Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

More than one in eight childcare providers have closed since 2015 Stock image Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

More than one in eight nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Suffolk have closed since 2015, according to data published by Ofsted.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance has called for “urgent action” to address a funding crisis it says has left more than 40% of providers across England contemplating closure next year.

Any provider who cares for early years children - from birth up until the August following their fifth birthday - must be registered with Ofsted.

In Suffolk, there were 694 such providers on the register at the end of March 2018, 110 fewer than in March 2015.

All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week during term time.

But since September 2017, parents can claim an additional 15 hours if both they and their partner earn less than £100,000 a year but more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the minimum wage.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance argues that the funding the Government provides for the scheme is not enough to cover the costs incurred by providers.

Suffolk lost nine providers in the first seven months after the 30 hours scheme was introduced.

Lisa Pratt, from Street Farm Day Nursery in Elmswell, said she feared more would close unless the Government acted.

“I’m not surprised to hear that at all,” she said. “If it continues, then there will be only be more that close.

“The council agreed to increase the hourly rate paid to providers from £3.87 to £4 but it’s still a struggle.

“The Pre-School Learning Alliance has been great in fighting our corner but the Government just isn’t listening.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said the new scheme had “further exasperated” funding problems already experienced by providers under the 15 hours scheme.

He added: “There has never been any such thing as free childcare. It’s subsidised childcare.

“Early Years funding is frozen until 2020, and while our costs go up, we’re just told to make it work.”

Research undertaken by the organisation has found that more than four in ten providers are now charging parents for extras such as lunches or nappies to make up the shortfall in funding.

This means providers in poorer areas, where parents are not able to pay more, are struggling the most.

According to Mr Leitch, providers are being forced to take on more children to cope with the funding pressures.

“The providers have told us they can only operate at a higher level of capacity,” he said.

“Smaller nurseries, for example in rural areas where they operate out of a village hall, are having to close because they just don’t get the economies of scale that the larger ones do.”

Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said it was “normal in a private market” for providers to join and leave the Ofsted register.

He continued: “We want every child to have the best start in life, and it is great that more than 340,000 children have benefited from a 30 hours place in its first year.”

The Government is also supporting new childcare providers by providing grants to reimburse them for some of the costs of setting up their businesses, he added.

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