Private nurseries and childminders are to benefit from a £650,000 emergency fund so they can remain open during the pandemic.
Staffordshire County Council is investing the cash following concerns that the early years sector is running out of places for children of critical workers, such as NHS and emergency services staff. If they can’t access childcare, they may be unable to do their jobs.
A snapshot survey earlier this month revealed 73 per cent of private nurseries in the county have closed due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Now the grants will help those Staffordshire-based providers who are still operating, so they can remain open for key worker families and vulnerable children. A number of other early years settings could also re-open, although support for them would be on a case-by-case basis.
The funding is set to be available for up to three months and will be worth £750 a week to a private nursery and £80 a week to a childminder.
Helen Riley, the council’s deputy chief executive and director for families and communities, signed off the decision last week.
In a report outlining the plans, she said: “Only 27 per cent of private nurseries remain open. If the current trajectory of closures continues, critical workers with children under three years of age will not have childcare options in their local area.”
To fund the scheme for the full 12-week period, it’s likely to cost around £450,000 in grants for nurseries and £200,000 in support for childminders.
The county council said the grants will be reviewed week by week.
It comes as the Government is facing criticism for a last-minute U-turn on its financial support package for early years settings.
Many nurseries have furloughed staff as the number of children attending sessions has plummeted. These staff were due to have 80 per cent of their wages paid through the Government’s job retention scheme.
Nurseries had also been told they could carry on receiving the funding they normally get from local authorities for providing free places for two, three and four-year-olds.
But now it has emerged they can only effectively draw on one of these Government support schemes at a time. To claim back the wages of a furloughed worker, their salary must otherwise have been paid out of fees income rather than the free places funding.
Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow early years minister, told The House magazine: “This decision to withdraw funding that early years providers were initially promised will cripple many childcare businesses.
“They now face an agonising choice between paying staff not to work – from money they likely do not have – or making them redundant.
“Given the already dire financial situation these businesses are in, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that thousands of childcare workers will sadly lose their jobs and more nurseries will close, either temporarily or permanently.”