House of Commons nursery 'viable' despite £1m bill

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The House of Commons has declared its nursery ‘viable’ following a number of years spent loss-making.


The House of Commons nursery tender is due this month

The facility, open to the children of MPs and their staff, peers and Whitehall civil servants, is reportedly breaking even – despite occupancy rates of around 20 per cent lower than the accepted minimum for survival in the sector.

The House of Commons Nursery Annual Report 2014/15, details a ten per cent rise from 58 per cent occupancy at the close of the previous year, when it was making a loss of around £32,000.

The setting has been the focus of some controversy, after £557,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent transforming it from its previous incarnation Bellamy’s Bar.

The nursery's most outspoken critic, Labour MP Roger Godsiff previously claimed the ‘subsidised and lavish facility’ had run up losses and capital costs of well over £1million ‘at a time when public nurseries and Sure Start centres are closing’.

The politician had also called for the nursery to open up to Westminster’s poor to help justify its existence, if it was failing to attract enough custom among the 6,000 people working on the Parliamentary Estate.

The annual report states, ‘The Nursery has broken even three times this financial year, in April, December and February. The Nursery looks set to maintain a consistent 60 per cent occupancy in the new financial year.’

Within the early years sector it is generally considered that occupancy levels need to be 80 per cent or higher for a business to be viable.

A House of Commons spokesman said the initial set up costs and early years funding available across the sector were the only subsidies.

Forty children – many of which are not fulltime – are on the books, including six MPs’ children. Some 200 sessions and a maximum of 40 full-time places per day are up for grabs at the facility, set up by Speaker John Bercow in 2010. The nursery’s most famous alumnus was Prime Minister David Cameron’s daughter Florence.

Care for under-twos cost just over £1,278 a month while the nursery charges £1,170 for children aged two to four - bringing in £375,531, with operating costs of £367,880, including a wage bill for 12 members of staff.


       House of Commons nursery staff 

In the financial year 2012-13, the nursery was running a £100,000 loss, having collected £179,000 in fees compared with operating costs of £280,452.

While a a dedicated chef has been introduced, overhead savings are said to have been made on tying up with Bellamy's restaurant catering supplies, and negotiations on the cleaning contract.

The spokesman confirmed there were no plans to extend eligibility beyond the current arrangements.

The spokesman added, ‘We are pleased with the growth in attendance at the nursery and the reported benefits to those who use it.

‘Occupancy has been increasing since the beginning of the financial year, and so no further initiatives are felt to be necessary.

‘The financial viability of the nursery depends on usage at around current levels. ‘Now that the nursery is well established and highly valued, we are confident that it will continue to be viable.’

The current contract with the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) runs until September this year. A new contract is due to go out to tender by the end of February.

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