Suffolk campaigners warn of looming crisis in free childcare provision

Parents and childcare providers join Labour councillors before the county council meeting. Picture:

Parents and childcare providers join Labour councillors before the county council meeting. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Parents using “free” childcare at some Suffolk providers feel they have to pay top-up fees because the funding from government and the county council is inadequate.

Donna Row from the Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding campaign, parent Becks Hudson from Melton,

Donna Row from the Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding campaign, parent Becks Hudson from Melton, and Nicola Cannon from Melton Day Nursery, who are angered by Therese Coffey's lack of support for their campaign. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

That was the message from childcare campaigners who visited the council to back a Labour motion calling on the authority to pay more of their government fee to providers – and to pressure Whitehall to pay more per place.

Becks Hudson’s child goes to Melton Day Nursery near Woodbridge. She said: “I pay an extra £10 a day for the care. Without the support of parents, the nursery would not get enough to support it.”

Nicola Cannon from Melton Day Nursery said: “We simply could not operate with the amount we get from the government and county. When we asked what more we could do, we were advised to put a bucket out for collections or take in ironing from parents.”

Thee was a similar story from Maria Owen of Sutton Heath Childcare Centre who said most nurseries were operating at a loss.

The concerns prompted Donna Row from the Yorley Barn nursery at Sudbury and others to found the “Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding” campaign to highlight the problem of under-funding of childcare provision.

The campaigners came to Ipswich for a debate on the payments that are channelled by the county to nurseries to provide 30 hours of free childcare a week.

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Labour children’s spokeswoman Helen Armitage said: “According to the Pre-School Learning Alliance the average cost of childcare is £7.75 per hour. Many of Suffolk’s providers costs are around £6.00ph, this council pays £3.87 basic rate.”

Council children’s spokesman Gordon Jones said the county was trying to lobby the government to increase its support for free childcare places in Suffolk.

But he could not support the motion because the county was reducing the proportion of grant that it spent on administration.

He said: “Local Authorities are currently allowed to retain 7% of Early Years money received to fund our Early Years statutory duties. This year we are retaining 6.3% and next year we are working to retain a maximum of 5% in line with government guidelines.”

The motion was defeated by 42 votes to 20 with Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent members backing Labour.

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