The owner of a Halifax nursery has urged the Government to review their free childcare policy as she prepares to close her business.
Amanda Aspin, from Greetland, has cited the 15 free hours of childcare available for parents of some two-year-olds, and the 30 hours of free childcare for parents of all three and four-year-olds, as the decisive factor in having to close her Apple Tree Nursery.
Amanda says her nursery is given £4.90 an hour for two-year-olds and £3.92 an hour for three and four-year-olds.
“I bought the nursery 14 years ago, and within that time it has been my life.
“I’ve had three children in that time, and all three have attended the nursery.
I took two weeks maternity leave and then went back to work.
“But it’s been a struggle for a long time financially.
“We’ve always just about kept out heads above water, we’ve never really been profit-making.
“But two years ago it started to get to the point where we couldn’t see a way out of it, and the funding wasn’t covering our costs, which include minimum wage for staff, pensions, VAT, bills, food, business rates.
“We can only take so many children because of the ratio of staff that is required.
“And funding hasn’t gone up in the same way that costs have.”
Amanda says she knows of two other nurseries in Calderdale that have had to close
She also said there was interest in buying the business but none that turned into offers once the sums were done.
“We’ve done our utmost to keep the business going.
“We’ve tried to put a brave face on things, but we have to be realistic.
“I also have to think about my health and the health and well-being of my family.
“We’ve had so many sleepless nights over the last couple of years.
“Closing it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, it was agonising.
“Having to speak to our staff about it, who have been so loyal and are like family to us, it was heartbreaking.
“Every nursery is struggling. I regularly attend networking meetings with other nurseries.
“Some are managing it by taking the children out of the funded hours.
It’s a nationwide problem.
“The Government needs to look at the funding.
“We want to provide this for the children because we see the benefits children get from it.
“But if it’s not covering the costs, the government are going to find themselves offering their ‘free places’ - which aren’t free, they are funded - but not have enough facilities to provide them.
“Until they improve the funding situation, it will not improve.”
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) based near Brighouse said: “We are very saddened to hear of the impending closure of Apple Tree Nursery in Halifax.
“Each closure is devastating to those who run nurseries but also children, their families and staff. Moving children to new childcare provision is upsetting for them and their families.
“Unfortunately, too many nurseries are faced with no other option but to close due to underfunding of the Government’s childcare policy which means they are not able to cover their costs.
“Calderdale nurseries receive the lowest funding rate in the country, just £4.30 an hour from Central Government. Once the local authority has taken out five per cent for its sufficiency responsibilities, less than £4 is being paid to the actual providers. Meanwhile all their business costs have been rising, including National Minimum wages, business rates, pensions contributions and utilities bills.
“Our research with nurseries shows that the difference between their costs and the funding given is over £2,000 a year per child. We have found that since this policy has been brought in, nursery closures have increased by 66 per cent and these are just the ones we know about.
“It’s time that the Government acknowledged that these ‘free’ hours are not free, either to parents or nurseries. For many nurseries, the only way to remain sustainable is to charge parents of younger children higher fees which prevents many parents from returning to work.
“This is the third closure that NDNA is aware of within the Calderdale local authority area since September 2017.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every child to have the best start in life which is why we are spending more money than ever before to support early years education and childcare – around £6 billion a year by 2020. However, we recognise the need to monitor costs and the childcare provider market. We regularly carry out research to ensure our evidence reflects the whole sector.
“We have also given local authorities the power to offer business rate discounts as they see fit. We wrote to all councils to encourage them to use these powers in respect of local high quality childcare provision, and it is up to them to decide if they choose to do this. Since 2016 the Government has introduced a range of business rates reforms and measures in England worth over £13bn over the next five years.”
Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Megan Swift, said: “The 30 hours free childcare scheme is available for working parents and allows an additional 15 hours on top of the 15 free hours all 3 and 4 year olds are able to receive.
“There is no obligation for any childcare setting to offer the funded extended hours – it is entirely discretionary. However in Calderdale, we have sufficient 30 hours places available to result in a higher than average take up rate.
“Calderdale Council provides a comprehensive range of free business support, which is available to any childcare setting. We may also be able to offer grant support to assist childcare settings experiencing exceptional financial circumstances. Discretionary business rate relief is also available to those childcare settings who are charitable organisations and our finance team signpost accordingly.
“To find out more about the support available for childcare settings, contact the Early Years and Childcare Sufficiency Team on 01422 392576. For more information about the free childcare scheme and to find out if you’re eligible, visit http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/freechildcare.”
Apple Tree Nursery will be having a sale of their equipment on Friday, December 7, Monday, December 10 and Wednesday, December 12 from 10.30am to 2.30pm.