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Free childcare expectations ‘grossly unfair’

ACHILDCAREprovider in Frome has expressed concerns about the government’s plans to raise the amount of subsidised childcare available to working families.

The plans, announced in the Queen’s speech last month, revealed that all three and four year-olds in working families will be eligible for 1,140 hours of free childcare per year – twice the current entitlement, which could save the families around £5,000 a year.

However, the term ‘free childcare’ has been accused of being misleading as local authorities do not always subsidise nurseries’ full hourly rates, meaning the providers are left to cover the cost themselves.

Bright Stars Childcare in Frome is a private nursery that offers childcare for babies, toddlers, and nursery and preschool children.

Nursery manager Bridget Cottrell said, “I think the scheme will be great for local families and offer them important support, because it will allow parents the opportunity to seek jobs.

“However, it’s going to have a huge impact on childcare providers and the government’s expectations of us are grossly unfair. The funding we receive from the local authority does not cover the fees we charge, therefore for every free hour taken up we are losing money.

“What’s also important is that we are expected to have higher qualified staff than ever ­– more degree-level employees and teachers, who we simply cannot afford to pay.

“There will be a load more pressure on nurseries to provide double the childcare, and there won’t be enough places.

“There isn’t a lot we can do to help ourselves – a high proportion of families take up funded childcare, and as a registered provider we can’t turn children away if we have space for them. If we charged higher fees or didn’t offer the funded childcare, parents wouldn’t choose us.”

A survey taken by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), revealed recently that almost 66% of parents questioned said they would definitely take every free hour on offer, while a further 13.7% said they would ‘probably’ take all of them.

MP for Somerton and Frome David Warburton welcomed the plans and the security they would bring local families.

He said, “Childcare costs can be a huge burden on family finances that prevents parents from working. This announcement will make a real difference to families in Somerset, giving parents the opportunity to return to work and hold on to more of their hard-earned money, while their children benefit from 30 hours of free, flexible childcare.”

To find out more about the government’s plans for childcare, search ‘childcare’ at www.gov.uk.