05 Aug 2018, Catherine Gaunt
This is a critical time for the early years sector. It is clear that many childcare providers across the country have already closed their doors. I know through my regular conversations with providers in Hampstead and Kilburn that many more are contemplating closure due to funding pressures and ongoing concerns over the workforce.
This is why on 18 July the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Childcare and Early Education arranged a Lobby Day in Parliament. We wanted to bring a large group of providers from across the country together to meet with their local MP and other politicians, and tell them directly about the issues their businesses are facing.
I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to travel to Westminster and take part in the event. It was great to see such a busy room and hear about the brilliant work and dedication to delivering high-quality early education. This really made an impact on other MPs who attended and demonstrated to them the passion that exists in the sector to get policies like the 30 hours right.
We were keen to emphasise to all MPs that the ambitions that drive the Government’s 30-hours policy are warmly supported by providers and parents alike. However, we wanted to highlight aspects of the delivery of the policy which need to be addressed urgently.
According to Ceeda, the average hourly cost to PVI providers and pre-schools of providing funded places for three- and four-year-olds is £5.08, compared with an average Government funding rate of £4.34. This means there is a shortfall of 74p (or 15 per cent) per child per hour, which adds up to an annual funding shortfall of £63m for the offer.
Research conducted by the National Day Nurseries Association has shown a 47 per cent increase in setting closures since the introduction of the 30-hours policy in September 2017. Additionally, the Pre-School Learning Alliance states that nearly four in ten providers are uncertain whether or not they will be offering 30-hours places in a year’s time.
I am delighted by the positive response we received from MPs attending the Lobby Day. We had more than 50 attend, including Government ministers who gave a lot of time to learn about the challenges facing the sector in further detail. We’ve already had several Parliamentary Questions tabled, and many MPs committing to write to the Education Secretary to pass on the issues raised.
Having such a large number of providers all meeting together in Parliament also meant we secured prominent media coverage, and I was delighted that the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshireshow invited me and one of the APPG’s sponsors, Cheryl Hadland of Tops Day Nurseries, to talk about the Lobby Day, why it was happening and what we want to see change. What struck me when talking to the producer was how unaware the show was of the scale of challenges facing the sector, and I’m pleased that they committed to me to cover these issues much more in the future.
This is a great start to building support across Parliament for the need to improve the funding arrangements for 30 hours, but it is only a start. I also know that 30 hours is not the only issue – providers are also dealing with rising business rates, staff costs and recruitment challenges.
I’m aware that most people reading this article wouldn’t have been able to take part in our Lobby Day. However, anyone can write to or ask to meet with their MP, giving you the opportunity to tell your story about the positives of 30 hours and raise awareness of the difficulties you are having delivering it.
With Parliament now on its long summer recess, it is a great time to contact your local MP and ask them to visit you at your setting to see for themselves the great work you are doing. It’s really simple to find their contact details – just visit www.parliament.uk to find the details and send them a short, polite and friendly email asking if they will visit you at your setting in their constituency.
We are seeking to build long-term parliamentary advocates and supporters for the sector, MPs who can stand up on your behalf and call on the Government to make the important changes we need to ensure all childcare providers are funded fairly for delivering 30 hours, and give every child the best possible start in life. By taking part in the Lobby Day, or in inviting your MP to visit you over the summer, you are playing a vital role in supporting the sector for the years ahead.
If you do secure a meeting with your local MP over the summer, please do keep the APPG informed.