NURSERY school owners have told how funding changes are “breaking them” as figures show many childcare providers are being forced to shut.
About one in six nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Brighton and Hove and the rest of East Sussex have closed since 2015 and more than one in ten have closed in West Sussex, according to data published by Ofsted.
Gaynor Brown, centre manager at Fiveways Playcentre in Florence Road, Brighton, said: “This new 30 hours’ free childcare is such a problem for us and our colleagues. We only take one or two children on 30 hours because it would break us financially.”
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 they and their partner together earn less than £100,000 a year but more 16 hours at the minimum wage.
Ms Brown said she knows of many nurseries that have had to go because they can not sustain staff and facilities on such low funding from the Government.
She said the nursery has been running for 50 years and this is the worst point for them in terms of being stretched financially.
She said: “We want to pay our staff reasonable amounts of money because they have had full training and deserve a decent wage, but given the low funding this makes it very difficult.”
Keith Appleyard, treasurer for Fiveways Playcentre, said: “The situation was in crisis even before the 30 hours started.
“As soon as they started to talk about the 30 hours we sat down with the parents and said if we give you 30 hours we will close by Christmas.”
Mr Appleyard is a trustee for the non-profit play centre and said he has had to pay £11,000 from his own pocket to cover wages.
The latest data shows there were 262 such providers on the register at the end of March in Brighton and Hove, 51 fewer than in March 2015.
The statistics show 39 of the 51 providers lost since 2015 were childminders.
Kate Peach had to close Rising Stars, a nursery in Eastbourne in June last year due to financial strain.
She now runs Each Peach Childcare, in Wilbury Villas, Hove, and said the statistics proved her concerns were correct.
She said: “This is just so tragic and so sad but I knew this would be the case.
“These people are highly qualified trained people who are Ofsted registered and inspected, do amazing things but they can not afford to operate any more so they have to find something else to turn to.
“It’s really tragic because childminders meet a huge amount of families child care requirements.”
Ms Peach said the figures also warn parents of a serious decline in diversity and choice of preschool options for their children.
She said: “Some parents absolutely love and cherish the idea of their child being part of one to five kids in a person’s home but then some parents love the large, busy nurseries.”
Daniel Chapman, councillor for Brighton and Hove, said: “Although we have had some pre-school closures in Brighton and Hove recently, we are not aware that any of these are as a direct result of funding rates or 30 hours free childcare.
“The childcare market in Brighton and Hove is quite competitive and in the main these closures have been because of low numbers of children due to parents choosing alternative provision.
“We are sympathetic to the difficulties faced by early years providers.
“The early years funding block from the Department for Education gives Brighton and Hove City Council the lowest rate of funding of any unitary authority in the South East.
“The city’s MPs have made representations to the Government on a number of occasions requesting this be reviewed, but this has not resulted in any change.
“We are compliant with statutory guidance in passing on 95 per cent of our funding allocation to providers.”
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 councils in England lost early years providers in the first seven months after the 30 hours scheme was introduced, while 98 per cent have seen a drop since 2015.