Sheffield nursery manager says staff would be 'better off working at KFC' in battle over coronavirus support for pre-schools

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One in four childcare providers fear they will be put out of business within a year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey suggests, as the Liberal Democrats Northern Powerhouse spokesman called for support for the sector.

Nearly three in four (74 per cent) of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders feel that the Government has not provided enough support to them during the coronavirus crisis, according to the poll.

Childcare providers say they could be forced to make staff redundant, ask parents to still pay fees, and close their doors permanently after the Government announced it would limit the amount of financial support that some providers receive.

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The survey suggests that more than two in three (67 per cent) childcare providers have had to close their doors temporarily amid the crisis. Photo: PAThe survey suggests that more than two in three (67 per cent) childcare providers have had to close their doors temporarily amid the crisis. Photo: PA
The survey suggests that more than two in three (67 per cent) childcare providers have had to close their doors temporarily amid the crisis. Photo: PA

The Early Years Alliance (EYA), which carried out the survey, has warned that “abandoning” the childcare sector at this time will cause “untold damage” to the economy in the long term.

And Tim Farron, Lib Dem Northern Powerhouse spokesman, was joined by councillors in Hull in calling for better support.

Mr Farron said: "Nurseries in Hull and across the country are now under threat of closure in the coming weeks and months.

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"I have launched a cross-party campaign to make sure we protect our nurseries and I'm glad to be joined by the local Lib Dem councillors in Hull. When we get back to normal, we have to make sure we see our nurseries come out the other side."

A quarter of early years providers (25 per cent) in England say it is “unlikely” that their setting will still be operating this time next year, according to the poll.

The online survey, of 3,167 childcare providers, found that nearly half (47 per cent) may need to make staff redundant and more than a fifth (21 per cent) may need to retract offers to parents to waive or reduce their child’s fees due to the Government’s updated advice on financial support.

Last month, last-minute guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) said they would limit the circumstances under which childcare providers can access financial support from both the “free entitlement” funding scheme and the coronavirus job retention scheme.

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The move prompted a nursery owner to launch a petition, which has been signed by more than 167,000 people, calling for a reversal of the decision.

Since March 21, early years settings have only been allowed to open to vulnerable children and those with a parent identified as a critical worker.

But the survey suggests that more than two in three (67 per cent) childcare providers have had to close their doors temporarily amid the crisis.

Wendy Kettleborough, Children and Families Development Manager at Woodthorpe Children’s Centre in Sheffield, said the situation was “untenable”.

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She said her and her staff were all highly qualified to degree level but “would be better off financially working in KFC”.

She said: “This is the demoralising, demeaning and totally disrespectful position that the highly qualified and dedicated early years workforce find themselves in.”

She said the funding situation had been an issue before the crisis, with the centre only able to pay minimum wage.

But she added: “We are undervalued, under paid and have no collective voice as professionals. Covid 19 has intensified this situation.”

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Neil Leitch, chief executive of the EYA, said: “The recent last-minute U-turn on the support that childcare settings can receive for furloughed staff in particular has had a hugely negative impact on the sector, and if not reversed, is likely to contribute to many avoidable redundancies and, in some cases, permanent closures.”

He added: “The reality is that abandoning the early years sector at this critical time will cause untold damage to this country’s economy in the long term.

“The Government must now accept that it needs to do much more to support early years providers in this country – otherwise, we may not have a functional childcare sector when this crisis is, eventually, over.”

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said: “The childcare sector is on the brink of collapse. This survey is further evidence that the Government’s lack of support is forcing nurseries and other providers to close and sack staff.

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“Losing a quarter of our childcare providers in this crisis would have a devastating impact on working families. Ministers need to wake up to the reality that many vital early years providers will be lost forever unless they step in to save our childcare.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Nurseries, childminders and all other early years settings are playing a vital role in the response to coronavirus, by supporting critical workers and parents of vulnerable children with continued childcare.

“We have provided continuity in funding for the free childcare entitlements, and the Government has put in place a significant package of financial support for providers – this includes the coronavirus job retention scheme, which providers can access for employees whose salary is not covered by public funding. This principle applies universally across all sectors.”


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