19 October 2017
Parliament works best when MPs can take the concerns of their constituents directly to government and raise issues that resonate around the country.
Last Thursday I led a debate in Parliament on Nursery Funding in response to nurseries and childminders from across High Peak telling me about the difficulties caused by underfunding of the government’s new policy of 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare which was introduced last month.
Our local concerns were echoed by nurseries across England, and representatives of around 60 nurseries and childminders came to Parliament to watch my debate.
Whilst everyone welcomes cheaper childcare, we don’t want to see it done ‘on the cheap’.
Having helped to run the after-school club at Whaley Bridge, I know the extra costs that childcare providers are facing – the rise in the National Living Wage and pensions for staff (both excellent measures, but which need proper funding), and large rises in business rates.
We are lucky that High Peak has excellent nurseries – many rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. Such high standards require well-trained, experienced staff, who have the time to dedicate to individual children to make sure that they all thrive and learn.
Our nurseries all warned me that the low level of government funding to cover the promised 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds meant they will struggle to afford the extra wages for well qualified staff, or the levels of staffing over the next 4 years.
Hadfield Nursery told me the Government had underestimated the number of eligible parents and that there would not be sufficient places to meet the demand.
The Serpentine Nursery in Buxton told me they are losing £19,000 a year, with Sunshine in New Mills losing £4,600 from just 9 children, while First Steps in New Mills and Furness Vale lose £45 a week for each child on the government scheme.
Such figures are not sustainable so it’s no wonder that nationally half of all nurseries are worried that they cannot carry on. We have already seen three nurseries in High Peak close over the summer.
If parents are unable to find the childcare they need, it will be very serious – both for parents, and for their employers. That is why I felt this issue was so important.
The Minister met me with the nursery representatives after the debate and it is clear he doesn’t understand the pressures they face so I am writing to follow up on the debate to try to make headway.
It was a nerve-wracking experience to lead the debate but I am pleased at the positive responses and support, and I hope we will see some improvements.
And it was all good experience for this week when I have been chosen to ask a question of the Prime Minister – look forward to even more mentions of High Peak in Parliament!