Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced that there will be an additional £100 million capital investment in free nursery and childminder places for disadvantaged two to three year olds. But there are fears that money for the Government’s scheme to provide free nursery education for some two year olds is being taken from the early intervention grant which funds Sure Start centres and other schemes.
The £100m is for capital funding to all nurseries to build extra capacity for more two year olds. The move has been welcomed by childcare campaigners. The charity 4Children said it was a “welcome step”.
Anne Longfield, its Chief Executive, said: “This new capital investment will take the total dedicated to the 2 year old education offer to near £1billion – a potent symbol that early intervention into a children’s education is a priority.
“Giving every child that is entitled, a place, and in a high quality setting, is the real challenge and it is positive that this new money is being driven into improving capacity and buildings for new places to be created.
“The financial commitment needs to be matched with a continued strategy for closing the gap in disadvantaged areas where there is greater demand than places available. We also hope that there will be sustained investment in this area beyond this announcement so that the very positive moves to ensure that we can provide the best possible nursery education to the most disadvantaged is ingrained in this and future government’s plans.”
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “We greatly welcome the Coalition Government’s capital injection of £100m for the extension of the free early years entitlement for two-year-old children.
“Our recent survey of 1,000 day nurseries and pre-schools found that only one in five (21 per cent) said they would invest their own capital in extending provision. As always, the devil is in the detail and the challenge will be to ensure that this funding reaches the settings that need it to expand their provision for two year olds.
“We will be watching closely to ensure the funding is distributed equitably and is not used to favour a particular sector.”
However, Leitch also gave a strong word of caution, arguing that the announcement does nothing to address the fundamental concern of many early years settings that they will not receive adequate revenue funding for places for two-year-old children.
He said: “Until this is addressed, we run the risk of creating places which subsequently fall by the wayside due to inadequate ongoing funding.”
There were also concerns that the money for the Government’s overall £1bn scheme to provide free nursery places for some two year olds was coming from money reserved for the early intervention grant which is used to fund Sure Start centres and other schemes.
Anne Longfield said: “4Children are alarmed to hear today that the government may be backing away from its commitment to early intervention, by cutting the Early Intervention Grant which funds children’s centres alongside other core services for young people’s learning, development, health and wellbeing by as much as £150 million. That the Government is planning to abolish the Early Intervention Grant itself entirely next year only adds to our concern.
“These proposed changes pose very real risks to both the future of Sure Start Children’s Centres in England, and the wider move to earlier help. Removing the obligation on local authorities to invest in early intervention is potentially putting key services at risk which will cost the country more in the long run.
“4Children is calling on the government to guarantee a ring-fenced early intervention fund, with a commitment to cyclical growth, for the remainder of the Parliament. We also need an urgent explanation of where the £150m reduction is planned to be spent, and a commitment that it will be reallocated to local authorities if it is not to be invested in early intervention programmes.”