The Play Providers Association
25 July 2017

Essex nursery 'closes because of universal free hours scheme'


When ministers pledged to double the amount of free childcare for working parents, they never dreamed it could lead to some top nurseries closing.

But just over two years on, that is exactly what is about to happen.

Fidgety Fingers in Essex, one of many nurseries which says it cannot make government funding rates stretch over 30 hours, will shut on Wednesday.

The government says it has boosted the rates it pays councils to fund the scheme, including Essex County Council.

The Department for Education is sure that the 30 hours scheme, which is due to start in September, will be a success, like it says its trial scheme has been.

But the popular pre-school, which has been repeatedly rated outstanding by Ofsted, has only just broken even over the last few years like many nurseries and pre-schools.

The children make full use of its expansive garden, driving around in a make-believe bus, shaded from the sun by the maternal arms of a beautiful apple tree.

'Free hours?'

Based on the same site as owner Jackie Neagle's home, it has a familial feel, with all the children calling the nursery staff "auntie".

Pastures newImage copyrightFIDGETY FINGERS
Image captionThe children will soon be off to pastures new

"I've never had a parent look at the nursery who hasn't asked for a place," she says.

Fidgety Fingers caters for pre-school children, with all of those aged three and four being entitled to 15 hours free childcare a week.

But from September, those from families with working parents will be entitled to 30 hours free care/early years education per week - just so long as their parents do not earn more than £100,000 a year each.

Like many other nurseries, the rate Jackie receives from the government via Essex County Council for the 15 free hours does not cover her staff costs or overheads.

When she opened 10 years ago, the money just about worked, she said, but as the bills and overheads have increased it no longer stretches that far.

And in recent months the rate the nursery is paid has been reduced to £4.21 an hour from a high of £4.61 several years ago.

"Currently we make a loss of £1.95 an hour per child, so we ask for voluntary contributions of £30 per week per child," she says.



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