The squeeze on nursery places is set to tighten as the Government opens up free childcare for thousands more 2-year-olds. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is widening the scheme to families earning less than £16,000 and receiving working tax credits, with a budget of £755m for 2014. This is expected to provide funding for around 40% of 2 year olds by September next year.

Mr Clegg hopes to double the number of 2-year-olds getting free nursery time, saying it will give more disadvantaged children the chance to start school on an equal footing with their peers.

But Fiona Onasanya, Labour’s spokeswoman for children on Cambridgeshire County Council, said although increasing numbers of children entitled to free early years provision “can only be a good thing”, it comes when there are huge cuts to other areas of children’s services.

She said: “The Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. It’s like removing someone’s teeth and then asking them to chew.

“We are already struggling to meet the need for places for 3 and 4-year-olds and it is bound to be a real challenge to ensure high quality nursery provision in the right places for 2-year-olds as well.”

The Pre-School Learning Alliance has raised concerns that the Government will continue to pay nurseries at the national average rate of £5.09 per hour to provide the childcare for increased number of disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive, said: “We are extremely disappointed to see that there has been no increase in the average rate of funding announced last year, despite annual inflation of around three per cent and the fact that providers have repeatedly stated that this figure in no way reflects the true cost of the delivery of this provision.

“Alliance members are already facing enormous challenges. Many indicate that they are subsidising year-on-year increases in costs to enable them to continue to deliver the right kind of individual and specialist support to children in their care – particularly those with more complex needs.

“Quality provision simply cannot be provided on the cheap. It is unfair – and frankly, unfeasible – to expect providers to continue to absorb the additional costs associated with delivering quality care. If the government continues to provide an inadequate level of funding for this scheme, it is inevitable that we will continue to see a decline in the overall quality of early years provision in the long term.”

Purnima Tanuku, National Day Nurseries Association chief executive raised similar concerns in a statement: “The announcement of a £755m funding pot for local authorities to deliver the next raft of two-year-old places must be passed on in full to the early years providers to ensure we have enough high quality places.

“Thanks to a more transparent system announced along with this funding, local authorities and childcare providers will be able to see how many two-year-olds in their catchment area are eligible for funded places.

“Ministers have recently been urging local authorities to pass on the free place funding in full and we would ask them to take notice and listen.

“NDNA’s latest nursery survey showed the rates around 50 per cent of providers were receiving for a two-year-old place was less than the amount it cost to provide the care. In order for the system to be sustainable and provide quality early education and care, funding must meet costs.”

How do you feel about the announcement? Is it positive for the industry or another example of the government asking too much without enough funding?  Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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