The future of nurseries and early years settings debated in Parliament

Nurseries and early years providers were the subject of a debate in Parliament on Thursday 3 December. APPG for childcare and early education logo

The debate in Westminster Hall was called and opened by Steve Brine MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Childcare and Early Education. 

MPs from across Parliament spoke on issues such as funding, supporting children with SEND and the pressures of the pandemic. Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years Tulip Siddiq and Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children and Families then responded as the debate closed.

NDNA and members have met with MPs to raise the sector’s concerns and the real practical challenges being faced on the ground.

Key issues raised were: 
  • The acknowledgement of the crucial role that nurseries played during the lockdown caring for children of key workers and vulnerable children
  • That funding rates do not meet current costs or keep pace with rising costs
  • Impact of Coronavirus on the sector and children
  • The need for childcare to be available for families to be able to work, especially mothers’ employment opportunities
  • The positive impact early education has on children’s outcomes
  • The need to review and reform the complicated childcare funding landscape for parents and providers

In the debate Steve Brine MP said: “Childcare providers really have been the fourth emergency service during the pandemic, so it’s important to keep the show on the road. As NDNA said in their excellent recent report, A Plan for Jobs needs a Plan for Childcare.

“But many providers feel they have reached the end of the road. Many settings discuss market failure with me. The impact across our country is stark if we get this wrong. We need a complete overhaul of the whole system.

“I would like to see a funding mechanism that increases rates along with rising costs for wages, pension, inflation – which all erode the balance. While the £66m increase this year was obviously a welcome cash injection, sadly many settings saw it as a funding cut in real terms once costs were taken into account.

“Early years is about the building blocks of a successful society and economy.”

In response Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children and Families apologised for not having announced the funding arrangements for the spring term, but she was “pressing everyone” to get it finalised.

She said: “Colleagues should understand there will be demographic change, falling birth rates mean fewer children in the next financial year in the Early Years age group so total entitlement spend 21/22 may be less than in 20/21. But in 21/22 there will be a further £44m which means local authorities will be able to increase hourly rates paid to providers. 

“This will pay for rate increases higher than the cost nurseries may face from the uplift to the National Living Wage in April.”

NDNA Chief Executive, Purnima Tanuku OBE, said: “Following on from the Royal Foundation’s report on the importance of early years, this was an important debate at a vital time for the sector.

“We heard from MPs the vital examples of the reality on the ground for providers, many who were our members. Thank you to everyone who was involved in our #PlanforChildcare campaign that has helped raise awareness among Parliamentarians. 

“The Minister recognised the importance of the sector and promised that the funding increases would cover National Living Wage increases and we will be asking the Department for Education to show its working out when the rates are published.

“However, providers and practitioners need more than warm words, we need to see action now from the Government to prevent a growing crisis. We need to see emergency funding this year, a decision on spring funding before it’s too late and the business rates holiday for nurseries made permanent.

“We want to thank all the MPs who spoke up for the importance of early years today. The sector has worked hard throughout this pandemic, acting as a fourth emergency service for key workers and vulnerable children. Now is the time for that to be recognised by Ministers.”

 NDNA shared a briefing with MPs ahead of the debate which highlighted key asks of the government:

  • Establish a Transformation and Recovery Fund for early years to deal with the higher costs of Covid-19
  • Restore the Job Retention Bonus for the early years sector in recognition that nurseries who are open and stretched cannot benefit in the same way as other sectors from the extended furlough scheme
  • Extend the business rates holiday for nurseries 
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of childcare funding to simplify the system for parents and providers

Read the full transcript here