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Nurseries call Labour's universal free childcare vow a 'huge challenge'

Article By: Angeline Albert

Labour’s education secretary Angela Rayner has promised 30 hours free childcare per week for two to four-year-olds - no matter what a family earns - and £500 million to turn back the tide of Conservative funding cuts to children’s centres. Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner speaking at  Labour party's 2017 annual conference

However Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), warned that the “promise of universal free childcare is a huge challenge which any future government would need time to plan and develop properly. We believe that current problems with free childcare need to be addressed as a matter of urgency before developing anything further.”

Angela Rayner made the announcement of universal free childcare at the Labour Party's annual conference in Brighton. She attacked the Conservative party's 30 hour free childcare offer, telling delegates: “The Tories, they promised free childcare to the children of working parents.

"They promised over 600,000 places. But they created less than a quarter of them. The most disadvantaged aren’t even eligible and costs are rising more than twice as wages.

“Today, we are publishing a report setting out the alternative. Free, high quality, early education, universally available for every two-year-old and four-year-old and extra affordable care for every family saving them thousands of pounds a year.”

Currently, parents are entitled to 15 hours a week universal free childcare, with 30 free hours, subject to eligibility. Labour says its universal 30-hour promise for 38 weeks of the year would cost £4.7 billion but money would go directly to nurseries and childcare providers, instead of parents applying for it and waiting to be reimbursed later.

Ms Tanuku of NDNA, said: “As the voice of the nursery sector, NDNA supports the principle of universal free childcare” but she warned: “It’s only possible for nurseries to deliver free childcare if they are paid a fair hourly rate which at least covers their costs. At the moment, this is just not happening, with 85 per cent of nurseries having to absorb shortfalls amounting to an average of £958 per child per year.”

£500m for children’s centres to reverse £437m cuts

The shadow education secretary also announced £500m to fund Sure Start children’s centres. She told delegates: “When I became pregnant at 16, it was easy to think that the direction of my life, and that of my young son, was already set.

"My mum had a difficult life, and so did I, and it looked as if my son would simply have the same.

“Instead, the last Labour Government, through support of my local Sure Start centre, transformed my son’s childhood, and made sure that his life would not have to be as hard as mine had been. So, conference when I say that politics changed lives, I say it as someone whose own life has been changed.”

“Those crucial local services are being lost across the country. We reveal today that since 2012, £437m has been cut from Sure Start - nearly half of their entire funding.

“I am proud to say that we will give £500m a year directly to Sure Start, reversing those cuts in full. Because, conference, to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we need to give them the best possible start in life.”

Sure Start was originally created by the Labour Government back in 1998. In 2005, control of Sure Start passed to local government and with its funding not ring fenced, many centres have faced cuts in funding. Since 2012, £437m has been cut from Sure Start – nearly half of its funding.

Ms Rayner said her party’s pledges were part of its plan to create a ‘cradle-to-grave’ National Education Service, supporting everyone throughout their lives starting from the early years.

Irony of underfunding by 'successive governments' pledging free childcare

In response to Ms Rayner’s speech, Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said the "commitment from Labour to provide universal free childcare for two to four-year-olds no matter what a family earns is ambitious.

“It can only be turned into a reality by working with the sector on how it is implemented and by ensuring adequate funding to support high quality delivery. Lessons need to be learnt from the current 30 hours implementation."

The NDNA's chief executive Purnima Tanuka added: “The sector is struggling to attract and retain high quality candidates – “largely due to endemic low pay in the sector, ironically caused by years of chronic underfunding by successive governments offering parents pledges of free childcare.

“Free childcare and early years education must be free, both for parents and providers. Otherwise it just is not sustainable.”


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Candy Head

10 Oct 2017 12:48 PM

Whilst I agree with both David Smith and Lorraine Krimou's comments, I would question why we need the hassle of the extra workload to claim the funding in the first place. Why can't the money be given direct to the parent and paid directly into a Tax Free Childcare Account/Education Account. Child benefit is a fixed sum paid directly into a parent's Bank Account either weekly or monthly, why can't the funding be the same? The information is already there. No local authority need be involved at all in any administration, we as providers do not need to claim anything, thus avoiding a mountain of paperwork, the Government don't lose face because they will be giving each 2 to 4 year old their subsidised 30 hours (or whatever) and a fixed sum per hour can be given to every parent. At the moment each local authority across the country gives out a different amount to providers and each provider within the same area can be getting different amounts too. It should be a fixed sum specifically for the child across the board. That way we as providers can charge what is appropriate for our sustainability, parents will have a wider choice of providers and parents will have to pay our hourly rate. Politicians can then work out the Math a bit more accurately. It's a win win situation for everyone. This funding isn't free it is subsidised and at the moment it is being subsidised by us the providers!

Lorraine Krimou

Lorraine Krimou

05 Oct 2017 10:54 AM

Fully agree with David Smith, far easier to offer subsidised childcare places rather than free places as costs vary from setting to setting and location to location. Before this was introduced I responded to a Govt research interview about the scheme and back then I suggested that these payments could and should be recovered directly by nurseries via the PAYE system in exactly the same way that sick and maternity payments are recovered - there is absolutely no need for local authorities to be involved with this- and this would automatically release the 10% that is currently hived off the funding to pay for LA admin costs. Businesses don't pay their tax, national insurance and pension liabilities and business running costs via local government so can't SEE ANY JUSTIFICATION WHATSOEVER why a revenue/ income stream has to be paid via local councils to the private sector.

David Smith

David Smith

04 Oct 2017 7:33 PM

It is very easy for a party not in power to promise the earth. Both parties should ditch the use of the phrase "free childcare" and turn to subsidising childcare to make it affordable. Publicly funded "free" childcare for a 2 to 4 year-olds would be extremely expensive. Neither the government nor the opposition should rely on the figures that they are currently using for their costings. The sector needs higher levels of income to pay graduates and EYEs the level of income that the job that they do warrants.