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Nursery Owners Aren't Greedy or Obsessed With Profits -They Just Want to Stay in Business

06/05/2016 12:29 | Updated 06 May 2016

So the Government's largest 30 free hours pilot has been boycotted by more than 30 childcare providers.

This week, nurseries and childminders from all over York, including many NDNA members, voted against taking part in the early implementer pilot.

Their reason is simple. The funding rate of £3.95 offered is unsustainable - particularly as money for the first, existing 15 free hours will remain at £3.38, a figure that has been frozen for four years now.

The pilot in York is one of eight trials of the 30-hour offer due to run from September, ahead of nationwide rollout of the scheme to working parents of three and four-year-olds from 2017.

It is the largest pilot and seen as key, as it is the only council area that will include all eligible children in all types of childcare, including nurseries, childminders, pre-schools and schools.

The Daily Mail this week described York nurseries' move as a 'major blow' for the Government.

Childcare sector publication, Nursery World, always authoritative and measured and not given to sensationalism, has gone further, calling the situation a 'crisis'.

Eyes are now on the rest of the pilot areas to see whether providers in other parts of the country will also say: "I'm out."

Many parents understand the dilemma that nurseries are facing - that the sums aren't adding up.

But sadly, I've seen comments here and there from members of the public on this week's news stories claiming that 'greedy' nurseries are only interested in profits.

That is absolutely, categorically not the case. No-one wanting to make big money would set up a nursery. People who run nurseries are passionate about children and early education.

All they want to do is to balance their books without constantly edging up fees for paying parents to subsidise the Government's free places that they offer.

A Department for Education spokesman told the Mail that more money is being invested in childcare than ever before and that the pilot rate may not be the same as its offer at the point of full roll-out.

I've been telling the media this week that this is a clear early warning signal to the Government that funding levels must be sufficient for 30 free hours to work.

Actually, it's the latest in a long, long line of early warning signals from NDNA and the sector.

We first raised the need to get the money right as the 30 free hours policy was dramatically announced by the Conservatives in the weeks before the 2015 General Election and we welcomed the subsequent commitment to funding reform.

Consultation on funding followed and George Osborne's funding review pledged extra millions for childcare in November last year.

But at the time we pointed out that the important thing was the hourly rate that a provider could expect. As we're seeing in York, this is still unacceptable and unworkable.

We've warned and warned about funding, over and over, in Government policy meetings and on working groups as well as in the media.

Perhaps now childcare providers are voting with their feet, and the sector's predictions are coming true, the Government will see that there is a serious and valid point being made.

The York nurseries have indicated that they were looking for a fixed rate for all 30 hours of £4.50.

I understand that York City Council is due to meet with Department for Education officials to try and resolve the standoff.

Our fingers are crossed. Nurseries want to offer families the help that the Government is pledging but they can't do so if low funding rates threaten their ability to stay in business.

NDNA truly wants 30 free hours to be a success, for the Government and the sector to work together to find solutions and for families to get their free hours.

The way to achieve this is clearer than it's ever been.

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