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The Education Secretary has announced the successful local authority bidders for a £50m grant scheme, which will fund thousands of new childcare places and save parents around £5,000 per year.
Set to be rolled out in September, the project will create almost 9,000 free places for eligible three- and four-year-olds, helping to deliver the Government’s promise of 30 hours’ free childcare.
The newly announced funding will benefit 200 nurseries and pre-schools, who will receive a share of the funding to invest in new buildings, convert old ones and upgrade facilities, and create more physical places for children.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “The Government has recognised the important role played by private, voluntary and independent nurseries in its announcement of capital funding projects, with the largest proportion of the award money supporting this sector.”
Currently, 60 per cent of England’s funded places for three-year-olds are delivered by private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries which tend to open earlier and close later, offering greater flexibility for parents.
Ms Tanuku added: “This is great news for nurseries and the thousands of families who will benefit.
“We are heartened that Ministers are announcing this capital investment in a project which is bound to be extremely popular with families across the country.”
A Britain that ‘works for everyone’
Of the £50m funding, more than £2m will go to the Education Secretary’s ‘opportunity areas’, including Blackpool, Derby and Norwich, which have been identified as social mobility ‘coldspots’.
The additional funding to these areas will go towards helping local children reach their full potential.
Education Secretary, Justine Greening, said: “We want Britain to be a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
“That means removing the barriers facing parents who are struggling to balance their jobs with the cost of childcare, and spreading the opportunities available to hard-working families across the country.”
Eight areas are already successfully delivering the 30 hours offer a year early.
Parents in Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan and York have benefitted from the early scheme, saying it has helped them financially and enabled them to go back to work or take on extra hours.
However, Ms Tanuku from NDNA warned that there remains the unanswered question of hourly funding rates.
She said: “Capital funding is only part of the solution for the delivery of 30 hours, which is due to be rolled out across England from September.
“Details of exactly how much money local authorities will be giving to providers per hour for these funded places are still unknown.
“Our concerns about whether most nurseries can offer 30 hours of funded childcare to their parents and remain sustainable as businesses are still very much fundamental to the success of this policy.
‘The challenges remain unchanged’ for many
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, echoed the NDNA’s concerns, saying: “While today's announcement will undoubtedly be welcomed by the 200 early years providers who will be benefiting from the additional funding, for the tens of thousands of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders who won't, the challenges ahead remain unchanged.
“If the 30-hour scheme is to have any chance of succeeding, the Government must invest what is needed - both in terms of creating capacity for new places and ensuring that the delivery of existing places is funded at a fair and sustainable rate over the long-term.
“Anything less, and those parents who have been promised additional ‘free childcare’ from September are going to be left very disappointed.”