It hasn’t said this very loudly, however. Our news story on three nursery owners being told by early years minister Caroline Dinenage that they must charge for extras if the new funding rates threatened their viability caused quite a stir and some surprise among providers.
This instruction has prompted much unease, as well. There is still no guidance on exactly what can be charged as additional services, with the model agreements for local authorities yet to appear. There has been mention of ‘consumables’ (nappies, food and drink – a cup of diluted juice, really?), and of extras such as trips and yoga.
I fear that there will still be grey areas and different interpretations. Parents who can’t or won’t pay for extras could be offered a ‘different’ service or miss out on places to those who will shell out.
Are nurseries and childminders really expected to make up funding shortfalls and keep their businesses going with these extra charges? Should they try to make a big profit on nappies, for example? Three years of static funding will test this model severely.
And the expectation that early years providers need to charge for extras to make sense of the funding rates highlights the misleading naming of the 30 hours as ‘free’. Parents will not react well to such charges (even if they cannot be forced to pay them) and some may end up worse off under 30 hours as they won’t be able to claim the extras under tax credits.
It’s time to call this what it is – ‘funded’ or ‘subsidised’ hours.