Budget 2023: 'Extra hours might not be available' - concerns from Halifax nurseries over Government budget and Jeremy Hunt 'free childcare' plan

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Halifax nurseries have voiced their concerns about the “free childcare” plans announced in yesterday’s budget, with one saying they will not work unless their funding is boosted.

While managers welcomed the boost in support for parents, they are worried about how the plans for more funded hours will work in practice.

There are also concerns about plans to the staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

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A spokesperson for Minibugs Nursery in Ovenden said: “Whilst we wholeheartedly welcome this additional support for parents, we are left frustrated and disappointed that the fundamental issues faced by our sector do not appear to have been addressed.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (Getty Images)Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (Getty Images)
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (Getty Images)

“We are facing an extremely difficult period with regards to substantial increases in running costs without an adequate increase in current funding rates for three and four year olds.

"We are also experiencing extreme staff shortages due to many leaving the sector, usually for better paid work, which has been the driving factor in many nurseries closing.

"At Minibugs, we strive to pay our incredibly hard working staff fairly whilst making the decision to support parents during the current financial crisis by freezing fees for this year.

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"This is impossible to balance with the level of Government support currently offered.

Shining Stars Day Nursery,  Clare Rd, HalifaxShining Stars Day Nursery,  Clare Rd, Halifax
Shining Stars Day Nursery, Clare Rd, Halifax

"Additional funded hours will only heighten these problems unless the rates paid by the local authority for funded hours match what’s required to address these key issues.

"We also fear that parents will be left disappointed as additional hours simply won’t be available in practice.

"We are encouraged by the budget’s focus on supporting working parents, however it appears the core issues have been overlooked and the impact will not be as expected until they are addressed.”

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Paul Wanklyn, Company Director at Shining Stars Day Nursery on Clare Road, said childcare inflation is at a level "never experienced before”.

"The changes to ratio are a little concerning,” he said. “The care and education of children is a job that requires the full attention of the team in the room. In an age group where many children are still in nappies and especially in cases where children have additional needs or have English as an additional language, the strain on the team would increase significantly.

"I genuinely feel that the negatives would outweigh any benefits that the Government have communicated.

"With regards to the additional funding, the devil of course is in the detail. Whilst any assistance is welcome, the timing of the extra funding is a little disappointing.

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"With costs going up on a monthly basis, it would be good to see some support before the September 2024 date being suggested.

"The funding rate is another issue. At present the funding rate does not match the charge out rate that a typical nursery needs to apply. As such, settings have to charge for meals or additional services.

"Whilst the funding would no doubt replace parents and carers own expenditure, at present there is a 22 per cent gap between the funding rate received and the fees usually charged by nurseries.

“Given families are experiencing childcare cost inflation as never seen before, the speed and financial support behind the changes will be paramount to the Government achieving their target of supporting working families and increasing the available workforce.”

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Director of Totspot Day Nursery at Dean Clough Andrea Dyson said welcomed the extra support for parents.

But she said The Early Years sector was not consulted before the announcement.

"Unfortunately the Government has consistently underfunded the sector for many years, so their headline of “free” childcare is misleading and unrealistic to deliver. Parents should be aware that settings need to charge a meals and consumables charge to remain viable and to ensure we can attract the best staff to look after their children.

"At this stage, all we can say is that we will work with whatever is asked of us by the Government and make it work so that we can remain viable as an employer and a nursery that is sustainable whilst delivering the same high quality care that we have done since this nursery was established.”

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget yesterday was aimed at getting more people into work, including parents.

He said free hours for working parents in England will be expanded to cover all children under five by September 2025,

Eligible working parents of two-year-olds will get 15 hours of free childcare per week from April 2024.

Children between nine months and two years old will get 15 hours of free childcare from September 2024.

All eligible under-5s will get 30 hours of free childcare from September 2025.