Demand for nursery baby places starts to dip

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Many nurseries are experiencing a decline in the demand for baby places at their setting, a trend that they have attributed to the economic climate and new employment rights such as flexible working.

Linda Findon, chair of Cygnet Education and Childcare trust, which runs two settings in Stratford-upon-Avon, said, 'The fall in demand for baby places has been a progressive trend. Over the summer our occupancy levels for September looked quite good, but three-quarters of the parents whose babies were booked to start in September have since deferred their start dates.

'I think it is partly due to the extension of maternity leave and partly because of the economic climate. I think a lot of mothers may not be returning to work fulltime or their husband or partner may not be working. However, we are optimistic that things will pick up once the economic climate improves.'

Other settings have been posting on the 'Have Your Say' section of the Nursery World website to discuss the fall in demand for their baby room places.

One poster said, 'The enquiries regarding our baby room declined about three months ago and January enquiries have been very low compared to last year. It's a difficult situation, as babies feed through to fill the nursery - we will have to make redundancies if the situation persists. High ratios for babies mean that reducing staffing levels is the only way to remain viable.'

Another poster commented, 'I think the low demand for baby places at our setting must be due to flexible working rights. I think that parents will want nursery places when their child gets to around two years of age so that he or she can socialise with other children, or at the age of three so that they can access the free entitlement.'

However, some other settings have seen an increase in the demand for baby places over recent months.

Matthew Bullock, finance director of Bristol Childcare, which runs three nurseries in the city, said, 'We have 15 baby places at our Knowle setting and we are full until March 2011. In Filton we added five baby places last year and demand has been so high that we have been turning people away.'

Childminder Tunja Stone, who is based in Bedfordshire, said, 'I have been turning parents away because I have no spaces for babies. I think that parental preferences may be changing. Many parents seem to prefer childminders because they think that childminders have more time for individual children.'

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