Skip to main content

Early Years Sector

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 5 May 2020

What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of support available to childcare providers and nurseries during the covid-19 outbreak. (902243)

What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to the coronavirus job retention scheme on the ability of nurseries and childcare providers to retain staff. (902248)

We have two key priorities at this time: making sure that there is sufficient childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children; and ensuring the longer-term sustainability of the vital early years sector. Therefore, the Government will continue paying local authorities for the hours that we normally fund, and, where appropriate, providers can also access business rates relief, grants, a business interruption loan and the self-employment support scheme, which is especially helpful for childminders. In order to retain staff, providers can also furlough up to the proportion of their salary bill that would normally be considered as being paid from non-public funding sources.

I thank the Minister for that answer. With a young son at a local nursery—I declare that interest—I am acutely aware of the pressures faced by early years providers at this time. The Government said that they expect childcare providers and local authorities to work together to ensure sufficient childcare for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, but will the Minister also confirm that she will do everything in her power to support our vital early years providers, including meeting representatives to understand what more it might be possible for her Department to do?

My officials and I are in continual contact with early years sector organisations through regular meetings and working groups and feed their messages right into the heart of Government. We have put £3.6 billion into the sector through funding the entitlements this year and will continue to ensure that providers get the best possible support on the many different Government schemes while also staying within the rules. We also have a new announcement for parents. Parents who are normally eligible for the Government’s free childcare will continue to be eligible for those entitlements during this summer term, even if their income levels have changed because of the virus. This will be a massive support to families as well as to providers.

Nurseries and childcare providers have struggled to stay open during this crisis. The Minister will know that the confusion over the Department for Education statements on free entitlement and the furlough scheme has caused many financial headaches. Last week, the First Secretary of State said at PMQs that if those providers were finding it too much to bear, the Government will look “afresh” at what can be done. Can the Minister tell me when the Secretary of State will look afresh at what needs to be done, and, given that the Minister is regularly in touch with nurseries, will she tell me the last time that she spoke to the nurseries and childcare providers in my constituency, because they do not seem to know about plans to rescue their provision?

I spoke to early years organisations only last week, and speak to them on a weekly basis through my officials and in meetings that I join regularly. On the coronavirus job retention scheme, the initial guidelines were first published by the Government on 26 March. I am sure that Members understand that it would not be right for providers—or, indeed, any business —to receive two Government incomes for the same costs. We have worked closely with the sector to clarify this position, and will always make sure that early years providers get the best support possible. This will be an important discussion at the next spending review—

Changing the guidance on the job retention scheme at the last minute has pulled the rug from underneath many nurseries and childcare providers. A survey by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years has found that 40% of childminders are not confident that their business will survive this crisis. Despite the answers that the Minister has given, there is a lot of confusion. Will she do the right thing and bring forward a comprehensive plan to protect the childcare sector during this difficult time?

The guidelines were first published on 26 March, and we will continue to work with the sector to provide clarity to ensure that it can access, as far as possible, every single set of Government support that is available at this time. We will continue to work on supporting this vital sector.