Nurseries and pre-schools still face ‘crisis’ despite expected rise in funding

Parents and childcare providers join campaigning Labour councillors before a county council meeting

Parents and childcare providers join campaigning Labour councillors before a county council meeting in October 2017. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Early years’ providers have cautiously welcomed a funding rise expected to be approved by Suffolk County Council (SCC) today but warned it might not be enough to end the “crisis”.

Donna-Marie Row, who owns Yorley Barn Nursery School in Sudbury, and the founder of the Champagne Nu

Donna-Marie Row, who owns Yorley Barn Nursery School in Sudbury, and the founder of the Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding Facebook group. Picture: DONNA-MARIE ROW/CHAMPAGNE NURSERIES ON LEMONADE FUNDING - Credit: Archant

The government’s decision in September 2017 to introduce 30 free hours of childcare a week to eligible parents has resulted in early years’ settings closing across the country, and likely into the “double figures” in Suffolk, said campaigner Donna-Marie Row, owner of Yorley Barn Nursery School in Sudbury and the founder of the Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding Facebook group.

SCC received one of England’s smallest funding pots to deliver the 30-hour reforms, meaning nurseries and pre-schools have lost thousands of pounds. The childcare sector has accused the government of underfunding the offer and forcing nurseries to find extra cash, usually by increasing fees for additional hours. Some in Suffolk have resorted to bucket collections and extra fundraisers.

It is not compulsory for early years’ settings to accept the offer, in which three and four-year-olds of eligible working parents are entitled to 30 free hours of childcare a week during term time – double the 15 hours previously.

The government’s new Early Years National Funding Formula, which is funding the offer, aims to end historic disparities in funding across the country. But a typical Suffolk nursery or pre-school with 60-funded children aged three-to-four would have lost up to £13,000 from a £145,000 budget this year. This is because SCC received £4.41 of funding per child, per hour in the formula. It passed on 93.7% to providers: a flat base rate of £3.87.

Camden in London received £8.51 of funding. It will further reduce for SCC in April, down to £4.30. Before the reforms, base rates were set from £3.72 to £4.24, dependent on staff qualifications.

But today, a paper set to appear before the Schools Forum at SCC will recommend that the base hourly rate rises to £4, following a motion to increase funding. Other changes include a new mechanism for distributing disadvantaged funding.

Mrs Row said: “It won’t be enough but we do welcome it.

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“Last September, the government rolled out the 30-free hours of childcare for all eligible parents. What the government forgot to tell parents was that, while they were banding around the word free, they are not giving the providers the amount it costs to deliver that free place. For example, in Suffolk, it costs on average £5.20 per hour, per child, but providers in Suffolk were given £3.87, leaving us with a horrendous shortfall.

“A lot of providers have closed nationally – probably double figures in Suffolk – as they can’t remain sustainable. They are not allowed to charge parents for the shortfall. They are worried about the future: heating and food costs are going up, pension contributions will have to be made from next year, the living wage and business rates are going up.

“I think it was a vote-grabbing policy which was rushed out. Providers are saying we cannot afford to give away 30 free hours. It doesn’t work.

“So what have they done? They have put the prices up for babies.

“I am all for free childcare. Fantastic. Bring it on. But the government – you have to pay for it. The providers are having to clear up the mess, when we have got parents screaming down the phone that it is free, and we’re having to say ‘not it’s not’.”

Kirstie Smith, manager of Roundabout Nursery in Kesgrave, said the funding boost is still not enough to remove the risk of more nurseries closing.

She said: “It has been a difficult time for everyone in the sector. The £4 an hour rate is still not enough. The costs will still outweigh the income. It is not sustainable.”

Councillor Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, spokesman for children’s services and education for the Liberal Democrat, Green, and Independent groups, said: “This is great news for childcare providers and families in Suffolk. It’s just a shame that it has taken the council this long to acknowledge the severe strain that our childcare providers are under.

“Most providers I have spoken to are struggling to give quality childcare on the £3.87 per hour they currently receive from Suffolk County Council, and we are reaching crisis point.”

Labour’s children’s services spokesperson, councillor Helen Armitage, said: “I am obviously pleased that the changes have been made, but it really is not enough.

“The council have done what they can, which we welcome, but a radical review of Early Years Funding by central government is still needed in order to provide top quality early years provision for all Suffolk’s children.”

Councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at SCC, said: “We are working closely with partners such as the Schools Forum to discuss how we can best allocate the reduced funding we will receive from Government from April 2018.

“We are proposing to increase the amount paid to providers to £4.00 per child per hour, in order to give providers the highest possible funding rate. 96.2% of the funding we receive will be passed on to providers, exceeding the statutory requirement of 95%. This will include the £4.00 per child hourly base rate, as well as Inclusion and Deprivation funding for eligible children.

“We are pleased to be able to offer this option, but recognise more needs to be done. I have tirelessly campaigned for fairer funding from Government, raising the matter with local MPs and the Minister of State for Children and Families. I will continue to lobby the government for fairer funding for children in Suffolk.”

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