Funding boost might not solve ‘crisis’ in early years provision

Parents and childcare providers join campaigning Labour councillors before a county council meeting in October 2017.

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'.

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. Nurseries are being forced 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 funding disparities. But a typical Suffolk setting with 60-funded children aged three-to-four would have lost £13,000 from a £145,000 budget. This is because SCC received £4.41 of funding per child, per hour in the formula. It passed on 93.7 per cent to providers: a flat base rate of £3.87. Camden in London received £8.51 of funding. This will further reduce for SCC in April, down to £4.30. Before, rates were set from £3.72 to £4.24, dependent on staff qualifications.

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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.

Mrs Row said: 'It won't be enough but we welcome it. Early years education costs £5.20 per hour, per child, we were given £3.87; a horrendous shortfall.'

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Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, spokesman for children's services and education for the Liberal Democrat, Green, and Independent groups, said: 'It is great news but most providers I have spoken to are struggling. We are reaching a crisis point.'

Gordon Jones, SCC education cabinet member, vowed to lobby for extra funding and allocate existing funds the best they can.

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