A new report paints a stark picture of the financial problems facing childcare providers, particularly in rural areas.
Councils are warning that childcare in rural areas could be impacted the most by childcare closures due to the pandemic, with local authorities believing up to one in 10 providers in England’s counties are at risk of closure this winter, according to a new report.
A study carried out by the County Councils Network (CCN) of its member councils found that every single respondent felt up to 10% of their childcare providers at least could close this winter, rising to one in four in some areas, even without a second coronavirus wave. These more remote areas that CCN’s councils represent already have less childcare choices so councils warn just a few closures could result in parents having to travel much further or in some cases, not being able to access any childcare at all.
The study by CCN, whose councils cover 86% of England, found that councils believe the government’s interventions have helped stave off closures so far in 2020, but that providers have only ‘weathered the storm’ and will face financial difficulty without further support into the winter.
In total, 80% of respondents believe up to one in 10 local providers are at risk, whilst the remaining 20% are worried that figure could be as high as one in four in their areas due to increased costs of opening safely and declining demand during the looming recession.
They say that disruption to the market of this scale would leave many councils unable to fulfil their statutory duty to provide ‘sufficient’ childcare for residents, especially in more remote locations and that this could ultimately impact on economic recovery efforts if parents cannot find childcare close to where they live – especially if there are more local and national lockdowns.
They are calling on the government to commit to ensuring financial support for the childcare sector until the end of the pandemic, with councils given the ability to direct funds to providers in areas where closures could have a major impact due to the smaller number of childcare services. If no new funding is made available, the report says childminders are most at risk followed by nurseries and preschools.
The survey also shows that most councils have been approached for financial assistance by childcare providers – and county authorities step have paid early education fees upfront, reduced rents for tenants and created additional subsidises from government funding for those that stayed open in lockdown for the most vulnerable children and those of key workers.
Currently, councils pay providers a rate for free early education for eligible children, but many providers are also reliant on private fee-paying families and many are concerned they will not see those people return due to changing working patterns and financial hardship faced by people in the immediate aftermath of the virus.
Counsellor Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said: “The government’s financial support in this time has been invaluable, but a dead stop to it in the winter will cause huge problems for providers who have only weathered the storm of coronavirus with this assistance.
“Rural and remote areas of counties where there is already a dearth of childcare could be the most vulnerable, impacting on parents and children alike, and hampering the economic recovery efforts. This is why we will need further financial support, and the freedoms for councils to direct these funds to the areas where closures will be most catastrophic.”
Meanwhile, Early Years Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch has written to children and families minister Vicky Ford to express his concerns that the government has supplied coronavirus home testing kits to primary schools with nurseries and maintained nursery schools, but not private and voluntary nurseries, pre-school and childminders. The letter comes amid growing reports of nurseries, pre-schools and childminding staff being unable to access coronavirus tests as a result of nationwide shortages. This is resulting in practitioners and other staff being forced to self-isolate for several days and in settings having to temporarily close.