Northamptonshire asks DfE for more time for funding decision

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Northamptonshire County Council has asked the DfE for an extension to the deadline for setting early years funding for 2019/20.

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Northamptonshire County Council has delayed its decision on funding cuts, photo courtesy of Antbex74 and Wiki Commons

The council needs to make big savings to its budget in the next financial year, which starts on 6 April, after overspending on early years by £1.8 million this year.

A vote by members of the council’s Schools Forum on which cost saving measure/s it should take was postponed on Monday after providers made alternative suggestions.

Proposed measures include reducing the deprivation and quality supplements paid to providers, withdrawing the supplement for children with SEND, dropping nursery schools’ funding back to rates in line with grant funding or reducing central expenditure.

A further meeting of the Schools Forum is scheduled in a fortnight’s time, just days before the start of the new financial year.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council, said, ‘At Monday’s School’s Forum we had a very productive conversation with early years providers where alternative suggestions were made around how such savings could be made.

‘We are now in process of looking at these suggestions in addition to reviewing the original proposals and will set up a further meeting in two weeks to discuss further and review the options.

‘There is widespread understanding that savings have to be found, so now it is a case of doing so in a way which has the least possible impact on the sector and of course the county’s children.’

'The situation is intolerable', says the NDNA

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said that if the council withdraws or reduces supplements, there is a risk some providers could end up with less than £4 per hour, per child to deliver the funded entitlements, something the Government promised would not happen.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku explained, ‘The situation in Northamptonshire for childcare providers is intolerable.

‘These providers receive one of the lowest rates in the country at £4.35 per hour but losing the supplements appears to take them below £4. There are far more children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) in nurseries now than ever before. The funding supplements help towards supporting these children in the best way for them. Without this money, how can nurseries offer places to children when they can’t fully meet their needs?

‘It is hugely unfair that nurseries, their families and children suffer because of the council’s own financial problems. Central Government must step in and offer all the providers within Northamptonshire an hourly rate that takes into account their increasing costs which can guarantee their sustainability and quality. I am taking steps to speak with the Department for Education on this issue this week.’

Nursery owners call on MP for help

The owners of Northamptonshire little Steps Day Nursery, Heather Woolston and Karen Bounds, have written to their MP asking him to step in and ‘fight their corner’.

In their letter to the MP for Wellingborough Peter Bone, the nursery owners call the proposed cuts by Northamptonshire County Council the ‘last straw’ and possibly the ‘nail in the coffin’ for many PVI settings.

They explain, ‘The setting has really struggled to make adjustments to cover the shortfall in funding since the extended entitlement was introduced. With increases in business rates, the living wage and pension payments, we are now at a critical point.

‘Here at Little Steps, we care for many children with additional needs, but how can we continue to support these children with the level of funding and other financial strains?

‘Local authorities have the power to reduce our business rates, which is funded by central Government. Business rates have been scrapped in Wales and Scotland and local authorities Harrogate and Calderdale have given settings rate relief, why can’t Northamptonshire implement this?’

The nursery owners go on to say, ‘If nurseries close, there are not enough childminders to meet demand and the maintained sector very often only offers term-time only places. How are parents meant to work?

‘Somebody (we thought this is where you could come in?) needs to stand up and start fighting our corner. We understand that Brexit has over shadowed everything, but as you seem to be at stale mate on this issue, you may be able to devote some time to something that is very real and relevant now.’

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