Campaigners fight for fairer funding for PVIs

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Private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers in Birmingham have stepped up their campaign for equal treatment and fairer funding of early education places to make paying the Living Wage more affordable.

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Birmingham PVI nurseries will soon have to pay the Living Wage

PVI providers, who have formed the campaign PVI Support, are calling for Birmingham City Council to put them on a level footing with maintained settings by paying them the same rate to deliver the three- and four-year-old places.

A meeting organised by leaders of the campaign a fortnight ago was attended by 170 people.

Their call comes ahead of a council review of the level of funding for early education places towards the end of the year.

Currently, PVI settings in Birmingham are paid £3.59 per hour for three- and four-year-old places, while maintained nursery schools receive up to £6.30 per hour. Both sectors receive the same rate for two-year-olds, at £4.89 per hour.

Campaigners, who have identified 80 local authorities that pay PVI and maintained providers the same rate, and 22 that pay more to PVI providers, argue that they are being treated unfairly, as they are expected to deliver the same quality of childcare for 55 per cent of the funding. They claim that if their rate of funding was increased to equal that of maintained settings, they would be able to pay their staff the Living Wage, a requirement being brought in by the council next year.

Birmingham City Council announced last month that from September 2015 all PVI settings receiving funding to deliver the free places will be required to follow the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility, which stipulates that employees must be paid the Living Wage, set at £7.65 per hour.

As part of their campaign, members of the PVI Support group are also calling for equal representation.

Stepping Stones Nurseries owner Sara Reece, who is leading the campaign, told Nursery World that there are only four PVI providers on Birmingham's early years forum, despite PVI settings providing 51.4 per cent of the city's funded nursery places.

PVI Support is now calling for the council to give providers access to all information it holds on early years to ensure that information can be viewed from a PVI perspective and matters that may have an impact on children in their care can be raised.

Ms Reece said, 'The focus of our campaign is to give the PVI sector in Birmingham a voice. There are only four PVI representatives on the early years forum. Of these, one is a childminder and another runs out-of-school provision within the voluntary sector.

'If things stay as they are, rates of funding don't increase, and the Living Wage requirement comes in, then childcare provision in Birmingham will diminish and there won't be enough early education places, which would have an impact on the availability of childcare as a whole.'

She added, 'As a group, we have not ruled out the possibility of seeking legal representation if this matter cannot be resolved through dialogue and consultation with the PVI sector as a whole. We want to build a better relationship with Birmingham City Council where the PVI sector feels heard and respected for the valuable contribution it makes to the lives of the young children and families.'

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said, 'We have already previously committed to a review of funding and period of consultation with providers.

'The review will inform the council as to whether any changes are necessary to the funding formula to enable early education to be funded in a way that ensures all children are able to access their entitlement in a good-quality setting with staff paid at an appropriate wage. This means we will consider the merits of all options to ensure we can implement the Living Wage for hardworking staff as quickly and effectively as possible.'

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said, 'Councils should automatically fund good and outstanding providers unless there are safety concerns. We are aware of this situation and are currently looking into it.'

Claire Schofield, director of membership, policy and communications at NDNA, attended the meeting to hear providers' views. She said, 'NDNA's view is that these proposals go beyond the statutory guidance to local authorities for early education and childcare. We have raised our concerns with the DfE and are urging it to ensure there is a clear message set out for local authorities stating they can't impose additional conditions beyond those set out in the guidance.

'We understand that since it made its proposal, Birmingham City Council has taken note of the sector's reaction and we welcome its efforts to consult with providers and appoint an external expert to assess the proposal's feasibility.'