Faced with what it says are the ongoing problems of chronic underfunding in the sector, cuts in some areas, and rising costs, the largest voluntary provider in the country and the third largest nursery group in the UK, has had to close more than a fifth of its settings.
Writing exclusively for Nursery World today (18 September), Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the Alliance, says, ‘Over the past year, we have had to make the incredibly difficult decision to close down nearly two dozen of our settings across the country.
- Read Neil Leitch's comment - 'Counting the cost of early years funding shortfalls'
- Big issue: 30 hours childcare
'Stagnant funding levels are forcing settings to close their doors for good. And we at the Alliance know this first hand - because it has happened to us.
‘Some of these offered the 30 hours, some just the 15 – but all suffered from the ongoing, unsustainable lack of adequate funding, to the point that when faced with yet another year of rising rents, wages and other costs, but little to no change – and in some areas, a fall – in funding, we could simply no longer find a way to square the circle.’
The Alliance said that its closures are spread across England, including London, Lincolnshire, Devon and Suffolk, primarily in areas of deprivation, where settings are more dependent on Government funding.
In the 2017 Nursery Chains league table, published by Nursery World last November, the Pre-school Learning Alliance was ranked as the third largest group in the UK with 108 settings providing 4,223 registered childcare places.
Mr Leitch adds, ‘The fact that we operate predominantly in areas of deprivation made this all the more impossible, as this means that many of our nurseries and pre-schools are heavily reliant on “free entitlement” funding – and it was those settings that were most reliant on government funding that we were unable to keep open. Doesn't that just say it all?’
In a scathing critique of the Government’s childcare policy, he accuses ministers of allowing quality early years providers to fall by the wayside, ignoring evidence from early years settings that the policy is not working. ‘I cannot stand by and watch the Government dismiss the experiences of providers who have lost their livelihoods, all because they are not willing to admit there is a problem with this policy,’ he says.
Referring to the news at the weekend that 70 MPs have signed a letter calling on the Treasury to save maintained nursery schools. Mr Leitch adds, ‘As the chief executive of a provider working primarily in areas of deprivation, this takes my breath away.
‘Do politicians really think that it is only the 400 maintained nursery schools providing this vital service? That the 24,000 pre-schools and 40,000 childminders have nothing to do with it?’