Council rescues scheme

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An Essex nursery that looked set to lose out on 1.2m from the Early Years Capital Grant has been told that the local authority will honour its contract and provide the funding.

The future of the Dizzy Ducks nursery, which is situated in the grounds of Mayflower secondary school, appeared in doubt when the Department for Education told Essex County Council that it would withhold funding for any projects where there was no signed contract with a builder (News, 15 September).

Dizzy Ducks could not stay in its existing building, as it had come to the end of its lease and the school needed the building back.

However, in November, Essex council wrote to Dizzy Ducks to say that it would fund the project even if the DfE claws back the money. The council is currently contesting the Government's interpretation of unallocated funds.

Sian Nisbett, owner of Dizzy Ducks, which has four settings in all, said, 'It was a massive relief to get the letter from the council. If we were still waiting for the Government to respond, there is no way that we would have completed the building work by 31 March, which is the deadline for all capital projects to be competed.

'It is still going to be a massive rush, and at the moment we are scheduled to finish on 29 March. The cold weather is really holding us back, as we were due to lay the foundations this week but we can't do that unless the temperature is above four degrees. So the stress isn't over yet! The council has been brilliant though, they kept us informed throughout and they really did come good.'

Dizzy Ducks took over its fourth setting in Essex last month at just 24 hours' notice. The 45-place nursery in Ongar, which was previously called Cherish, had been in financial difficulty under its former owner and its lease was terminated by its landlord when it fell behind with its rent. The landlord, who rents out commercial premises on an industrial estate, offered to let Dizzy Ducks run the setting and pay no rent on the building until next June.

According to Ms Nisbett, the former owner has left the business, with financial matters outstanding.

Ms Nisbett, who has a 20-week-old baby and who had planned to still be on maternity leave, said, 'Some of the staff have stayed on, along with the majority of children, so we are hoping that in the New Year we will have an official relaunch'.

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