New research by the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed that nearly nine in ten councils are concerned about nursery capacity ahead of the rollout of the Government's extension of the 30 hours free childcare scheme.
The scheme, which was announced in March, will see every child in an eligible working family aged from nine months to five years entitled to 30 hours of free childcare each week by September 2025. It is currently available to parents from the start of the next school term after a child turns three.
The LGA survey of 150 councils found that most respondents are concerned about nursery capacity, with the main reasons for concern include the rising cost of childcare, the shortage of qualified staff, and the impact of the pandemic on the childcare sector. These report findings include:
- 83% of councils are concerned that nursery closures in 2023 will be significant and undermine efficiency.
- Fewer than half of councils are fully confident of having sufficient childcare provision for children aged two, under the current entitlements.
- 40% of councils was a spike in nurseries closing in 2022, in comparison with the year before. The key driving forces behind some of these closures include insufficient income to meet rising costs, and workforce related issues.
The LGA is calling on the Government to provide additional funding to help councils address these challenges and ensure that the extended scheme is delivered successfully.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Louise Gittins, said:
“The government’s extension of free childcare is a positive step towards helping working parents manage the high costs of sending their children to a nursery or childminder.
“However, we have serious concerns about the ability of local areas to secure nursery place, with capacity issues providing challenges to the universal rollout of the extended offer.
“Nurseries and childcare providers are already under massive pressure, grappling with severe financial and workforce challenges, which has seen staff numbers depleted and an acceleration in places closing.
“Alongside the improved funding rates, it is vital the Government’s planned recruitment drive tackles the staffing shortages and provides an opportunity for staff to progress and thrive in a fulfilling career.
“Councils will also need to be given the right levers to manage local childcare markets, given the significant rise in government-funded places local areas will see.”
The LGA's research is a timely reminder of the challenges facing the childcare sector. The extension of the 30 hours free childcare scheme is a positive step, but it is important that the Government provides additional funding to help councils address the challenges and ensure that the scheme is delivered successfully.
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