High Peak MP warns over impact of free nursery places

High Peak MP Ruth George on a visit to New Mills Nursery with Tracy Brabin, shadow early years minister. Also pictured is Claire Inman, from New Mills Nursery.
High Peak MP Ruth George on a visit to New Mills Nursery with Tracy Brabin, shadow early years minister. Also pictured is Claire Inman, from New Mills Nursery.

Offering more free nursery places for children could threaten the future of some early years providers, High Peak MP Ruth George has said.

Speaking in parliament, Mrs George called for the house to consider the impact the subsidised scheme was having on staff, nurseries - and even families themselves.

Currently all three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year. This is often taken as 15 hours each week, for 38 weeks of the year.

The government wants to increase the free places to 30 hours per week, but it is felt by some that the move could put businesses into difficulty as they faced paying for the shortfall themselves.

Mrs George said: “While the government does pay a subsidy to early years providers, we in Derbyshire are on the bottom end of the scale and receive only £3.75 an hour compared to those who receive upwards of £8 and hour.

“For the nurseries with experienced and qualified teams it costs more than that to keep a good staff on the books, and as are result nurseries are struggling to meet the shortfall.

“Three have already been forced to close in the High Peak.”

Mrs George added: “To help meet the deficit, nurseries are putting up the prices of care for children under the age of three, and for families this rise is then too much.

“Some are saying to me it is cheaper to stay at home than go back to work and pay for childcare.

“That is the last thing we want. We want to keep women in the labour market and utilise their skills, but if we are not careful this will be a downward spiral and the negative implications could result in child poverty as it then becomes more difficult for mums to get back into the workplace and then they live on benefits.

“I have four children, and as a working mum I can vouch for how important it is for a child to be happy with their nursery or childminder.”

Responding to Mrs George’s invitation to meet herself and struggling nursery owners, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I have recently met with some nursery owners while looking at this issue and they have a given a very clear message that actually in parts of the country the local authorities are operating in a system very efficiently and very well.

“There are also parts of the country where that is not happening.”