Paying £83 for a licence to play music in a nursery would not immediately strike the general public as being a big deal. But look deeper and you will see why being asked to pay this licence has touched a nerve within the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nursery sector.
Firstly, PVI nurseries do not operate on a level playing field with other early education provision. They too, like schools, deliver early education and are inspected in the same way so why are they being treated differently?
Schools are considered to be 'educational establishments' (Education Act 1996) so are therefore exempt from paying this licence. Other types of nursery are not.
Musicians, composers and performers obviously need to be paid for their work. We have no issue with that principle. However, when set against a backdrop of all the other additional financial penalties that the PVI nursery sector faces – such as insufficient hourly funding rates that do not cover costs of delivering early education, business rates and VAT – you can see how it becomes more difficult for them to remain sustainable.
We know that changes can be made to align early education and schools in terms of policy and legislation. It was only recently that Ofsted inspectors gave all nurseries half a day of notice when previously they would turn up unannounced.
TheMusicLicence is the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Government is paying attention to the funding challenges that nursery schools face – which number fewer than 400 schools across England – without considering the challenges that 24,000 PVI nurseries have. It’s no surprise that the PVI nursery sector feels aggrieved and becomes despondent.
When I presented at a sector event last year, the hot topic was to gain respect for the sector as our children’s educators. We know that the PVI nurseries – 95 per cent of which have been judged good or outstanding at their last inspection – offer high-quality learning experiences for the children they care for. They also work with parents to be as flexible as possible.
And then there is the over-zealous way PPL/PRS appears to conduct its licence collecting, with many of our members complaining about its "bullying" tactics. This brings home the unfair playing field that private nurseries are forced to work in. One of our members in Peterborough said they were being “hounded and harassed by this company and their awful debt collectors”.
Considering their current and crippling financial and regulatory burdens, this is more stress that nurseries could do without. Everyone knows that nurseries are underfunded and struggle to balance the books for providing funded places for two, three and four-year-olds.
According to Frontier Economic’s financial analysis of the early years providers' survey, published earlier this year, 46 per cent of PVI nurseries’ income now comes from Government funding. This means that the Government is the single biggest customer across the country. When the biggest customer of any business is not paying a sufficient rate, this can put them in financial difficulties, especially when the vast majority of these are small businesses with no room for recovering a shortfall. This same Government customer is also increasing staffing costs by putting up minimum wages each April, but not bolstering its hourly rates to cover this.
So compared to the overall financial picture, paying £83 is clearly not a drop in the ocean. For nurseries, this is death by a thousand cuts. It’s just one more burden they must confront and try to deal with.
I am speaking with children's minister Nadhim Zahawi later this month. My focus will obviously be raising funding and scrapping business rates for nurseries which will have the most impact for nursery businesses. However, I will also be raising this issue of this licence with him. It would be a very welcome gesture if the Government could designate all early years settings as educational establishments, so exempting them from paying a music licence. We all want the PVI sector to be seen in a professional light but in treating them differently to schools we must question if Government really does want to raise their status as professional educators.
Early education is a critical step for children and an abundance of research tells us that the early years are the most important in shaping adults of tomorrow. Educating our children is what these nurseries do best, so put them on the same level playing field as schools with sufficient funding to provide the best for children within their care.