Chancellor's childcare budget announcement could be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for some nurseries, says Sunderland provider
A leading nursery boss has said the Chancellor’s budget could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for some pre-school providers and has labelled the decision to increase staff to children ratios as ‘unsafe’.
As part of his back to work budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a series of childcare measures which will see the offer of free nursery places for three and four year-olds gradually expanded to include all infants over nine months.
Unveiling his budget to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt said for many women a career break “becomes a career end” and that this budget would help to “remove the barriers” for women wishing to continue their careers.
As such, from April 2024 parents of two-year-olds, who both work at least 16 hours-a-week, will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare which from September 2024 will be extended to cover infants over nine months.
From September 2025, the free childcare provision for under threes will be extended to 30 hours per week.
While the move will undoubtedly be welcomed by working parents with infants, it has raised grave concerns for owner of Little Jems Nursery in Hetton-le-Hole, Suzanne Morton, unless these free places are fully funded, unlike the current provision for three and four-year-olds which was previously highlighted by Buttons Nursery co-owner Michelle Barr.
Michelle highlighted how free place funding for children is £4.88 per hour but said the reality is the cost is “far higher” leaving nurseries in a position of having to increase fees for fee paying children to make up the shortfall.
Suzanne, 49, said: “As a parent I would be pleased with this announcement as it will be a massive help. However, unless these places are indeed fully funded, for a number of nurseries who’ve been hanging on for grim death, this could be the final nail in the coffin.
"The current places for three and four-year-olds are not free and the only way nurseries can fund this shortfall is through their fee paying children. If they are now also going to be free, and are also not fully funded, where are they going to get the money from?
"While my nursery is in a good position and I’m confident we will be okay, this could be a huge problem for some settings. The Government say places are free which can cause a problem with parents as they don’t expect to then be charged for things or asked for contributions to top it up.
"They should really use the term funded, because they are not free.”
The Chancellor has pledged additional per child funding with an extra £204million pledged for this September which will increase to £288million for September 2024.
However Suzanne has questioned whether this will make up the free place funding shortfall.
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She said: “While we welcome any additional investment the devil will be in the detail when this gets distributed out through local authorities and we see how much extra money we get for each child.
"It doesn’t sound a lot when covering all the children eligible for nurseries across the country. Last year we got a 15 pence per hour increase in per child funding which doesn’t even touch the sides when you look at rises in the minimum wage and the cost of energy.”
In a bid to cut costs for nurseries, Mr Hunt also said the current staff to children ratios would be raised from one to four to one to five – something which Suzanne strongly disagrees with.
She said: “This is something we certainly won’t be doing as it’s unsafe. Nursery practitioners have not suddenly grown an extra pair of arms or eyes and I think this is a ridiculous decision.”