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Childcare Settings: Financial Viability

Volume 654: debated on Monday 4 February 2019

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (908966)

We plan to spend £3.5 billion this year to deliver our funded early-years entitlements. We recognise the need to keep our evidence base on costs up to date, and continue to monitor the provider market closely through a range of regular and one-off research projects.

According to the Sutton Trust, 1,000 children’s centres have closed over the past decade. Now, West Twyford children’s centre, which is a small centre in an isolated area, cannot continue under the current funding arrangements. That will leave the 295 families it helped last year, 123 of which are among the 30% most deprived families in the country, in the lurch. Will the Minister come with me, along with headteacher Rachel Martin, to see the great work that the centre does—it is not very far from here—and can we thrash out a way forward from this unsatisfactory situation? The area has had local government cuts of 64%. We need to spare these vital centres the axe.

I will happily meet the hon. Lady, and even join her, if my diary permits, to have a look at that work. I have seen many local authorities throughout the country deliver outreach programmes to the most disadvantaged families, who actually do not necessarily tend to come into bricks-and-mortar buildings. There are models that deliver a better outcome for those families than just investing in bricks and mortar.

Two of my childcare providers have closed, citing the requirement to pay business rates as the final nail for them. In Scotland and Wales, private childcare providers are not charged business rates. Will the Minister look to see what can be done, because it surely cannot be right that we tax space which is beautiful for young people to grow and be nurtured in?

To my knowledge, two local authorities have done the same thing in England, and I urge other local authorities to look into what they can do to help childcare providers to cope with business rates.[Official Report, 21 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 9MC.]

Since 2010, the number of state nurseries in deficit has soared. One in five is now in the red and dozens have had to close. Transitional funding will soon run out and they face serious uncertainty about their future. Last week, I visited Harewood nursery, a much-loved maintained nursery in Pontefract. I was deeply troubled when the headteacher told me that without a cash injection the nursery faces imminent closure. Parents are running a GoFundMe page to keep the doors open. Will the Minister give us an assurance today that maintained nurseries will get funding, at least to tide them over until the spending review, before the end of the current financial year?

The hon. Lady will know that we had a very good debate on that matter last Thursday, when 13 hon. and right hon. Members spoke from the Back Benches about the provision of maintained nurseries. We are considering how best to handle the transitional arrangements for a number of areas, including for maintained nurseries. My message again is that it would be premature of local authorities to make decisions on maintained nurseries before the spending review, but we are considering transitional arrangements.

I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would shoehorn his inquiry into question 15, because he cannot leapfrog question 16, which would displace it. I thought that if he applied his little grey cells he would realise that the subject matter of his own inquiry was pertinent to that of question 15. I should have thought that a scholar of his repute was capable of making that mental calculation, but if he wants to wait, he will have to take his chances. [Interruption.] Oh, very well.

I do not know whether it is his birthday, but he has made a bit of a mess of the matter. Never mind, we will seek to accommodate him at a later stage in our proceedings.