A £50m capital fund, pledged in the spending review, is for councils to enable settings to extend ahead of the expansion of free entitlement for three- and four-year-olds.
A snap poll conducted by the Pre School Learning Alliance on Twitter, which attracted 59 respondents, found 23 weren’t aware the bid process was taking place at all.
Kintore Way nursery, based in Southwark, said on Twitter, ‘Didn't know about this. Need to find out if LA expressed interest now for us to be able to apply.’
Others said the deadline – which is 31 August – was too tight. Director of Reach for the Stars nursery, Adam Hindhaugh, tweeted ‘feedback from our nurseries today was too much work to do in a short space of time.’
According to the Alliance, some local authorities have only alerted local providers to the bid process as recently as this week, while the deadline is also problematic for both schools and term-time only settings, many of whom are closed during August.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, is urging the Government to expand the deadline ‘to ensure that as many providers as possible have a fair opportunity to apply for capital funding.’
He said it was ‘incredibly disappointing’ that ‘many providers are telling us that they have received little to no information about the bidding process, while those that have say that the deadline is far too tight to develop a comprehensive bid with the level of detail required.’
Under the scheme, councils which have already submitted an expression of interest can apply for a slice of the fund by setting out specific projects from providers in their area.
The Government says it launched the expression of interest scheme in April 2016 to give time for local authorities to discuss projects with providers. The bidding opened in June.
The Government’s Early Years Capital Fund document says that around £40m of money is available for this bid round. It says it expects just ‘100 to 200’ projects to be approved in total. Settings won't be awarded up to three quarters of the full cost of a project, with a quarter of the overall project cost raised from alternative sources.
The funding is available for private nurseries, voluntary nurseries, independent school nurseries, primary schools with nursery provision, maintained schools and childminders involved in partnership bids.
The Alliance has also raised concerns that schools will be prioritised over PVI settings. During a Public Accounts Committee oral evidence session in April 2016, then-Department for Education permanent secretary Chris Wormald said '...we have £50 million in the spending review for new capital. In a number of cases, these are private businesses that can raise their own capital, but we are putting money into this.'
Mr Leitch said ‘How is [raising of capital] possible when [30 hour] funding rates have yet to be confirmed and providers cannot plan for next year?
'Given that PVI providers deliver a significant proportion of free entitlement places, failure by government to ensure sufficient support for building capacity in the sector could have a real detrimental impact on the availability of 30-hour places,’ he added.
Lydia Pryor, from Stepping Stones Nursery in Norfolk responded to the Alliance's twitter poll saying ‘Without any clarity on funding for 30 hours, I’m not going to waste my time.’
The DfE says it is investing £1 billion more a year by 2019 to 2020 in free childcare places for two-, three- and four-year-olds, of which the £50 million of capital funding to create additional places is a part, along with £300 million a year to increase the average hourly rate paid to childcare providers.
A DfE spokesman added, 'We made it clear in all our communications that local authorities should be working closely with providers in their area to submit projects and are committed to ensuring these projects are on track to deliver places when 30 hours policy comes into force.'