Almost one in five nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Northumberland have closed since 2015, according to data published by Ofsted. The Pre-school Learning Alliance has called for “urgent action” to address a funding crisis it says has left more than 40% of providers in England contemplating closure next year.
Any provider who cares for early years children - from birth up until the August following their fifth birthday - must be registered with Ofsted. In Northumberland, there were 313 such providers on the register at the end of March 2018, 75 fewer than in March 2015. This is one of the biggest drops in providers seen by any local authority in England.
All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week during term time. But since September 2017, parents can claim an additional 15 hours if both they and their partner earn less than £100,000 a year but more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the minimum wage. The Pre-school Learning Alliance argues that the funding the Government provides for the scheme is not enough to cover the costs incurred by providers.
Almost three quarters of local authorities in England lost early years providers in the first seven months after the 30 hours scheme was introduced, while 98% have seen a drop since 2015. In Northumberland, there were 13 fewer providers at the end of March 2018 than there were before the policy changed in September.
Research undertaken by the organisation has found that more than four in ten providers are now charging parents for extras such as lunches or nappies to make up the shortfall in funding. This means providers in poorer areas, where parents are not able to pay more, are struggling the most. In Northumberland, the number of places available at the end of March had fallen by just 4% from the previous year, while the number of providers fell by 5%.
51 of the 75 providers lost since 2015 were childminders.