Council to make childcare provision fairer for all families

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An Early Years Summit and more affordable childcare are among a number of proposals to improve childcare provision in Tower Hamlets.

Tower Hamlets Council is facing unprecedented cuts to its funding and has had to save £58m from its annual budget since 2015, with growing demands and tough choices. 

In addition, funding to local authority day care nurseries from education budgets will end from September 2018. The Schools Forum decided that there are more effective uses for that funding within the early years system and schools, and if the council had to pay this additional cost it would result in cuts elsewhere.

As a result, the council is reshaping the service so that decisions are fair and equitable to support the needs of the 22,000 children under the age of five and their families in Tower Hamlets, but also with the capacity to increase places provided from a number of sources.

As a part of these changes, the council has decided to consult on the closure of three local authority day care nurseries because they cost about 3 times more than the average spent on a child by the service.

Currently the Early Years budget equates to £1,700 per child, or £5,300 per under-5s place, while the day nurseries cost £15,000 per child or £1.5m a year.

Under the proposals, Mary Sambrook Nursery would close at the end of July 2018, followed by John Smith Nursery in December and Overland Nursery in the first half of 2019.

Currently, around 22 children are scheduled to attend these nurseries from September and the council would help parents find alternative places. These would either be at six maintained nursery schools, all of which are rated outstanding, or at other suitable local childcare.

The council has made a clear commitment that no child would be left without a suitable nursery place.

The plans, announced in the latest Cabinet paper, also propose improving the service through measures including:

  •  An Early Years Summit of parents and childcare providers to make sure accessible high quality, childcare is available across the borough.
  •  To explore options for supporting families with childcare costs, for example with the Mayor of London’s promotion of low-cost loans to cover up-front termly fees.
  • Helping more parents to access government funding which provides 15 free hours of childcare for 2-year-olds from low-income families and all 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Developing more specialist provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
  • Supporting schools to provide wrap-around and holiday childcare including primary and nursery schools with childcare for children under 5.

 Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: 

“With a young and growing population and with a drive to support parents getting back into work, our priorities are to make sure that childcare works for all families in the borough who need it.

“We are committed to improving our offer for parents of and children under 5 years old, but this requires some rethinking of how to meet those needs, fairly and maximising benefits for all. Funding cuts have made it increasingly clear that it is simply not fair to continue to run these three nurseries at a cost of £15,000 per child, when the average our Early Years Service spends on each child is far, far less, with excellent services still provided.

“I understand that this is difficult news for the parents of the 22 children that were due to use these nurseries from September. If the plans go ahead, we will work closely with them to find alternative suitable places. But we intend places to grow in a number of our other under-5s providers.

“We want to use this moment to change childcare provision in Tower Hamlets by making it fairer for all. The Early Years Summit will help us to work alongside parents and childcare providers to achieve that together.”

Councillor Danny Hassell, Lead Member for Children’s Services said:

“Overland nursery provides specialist care for deaf children.  It is essential that these children would continue to be properly supported and we can reassure parents that they would receive first-rate levels of care and specialist attention at Children’s House maintained nursery school which has an excellent reputation. 

“The nursery would also expand its capacity and range of services available to cater for deaf children and their families. All parents will be offered the opportunity to visit and see for themselves the outstanding care that they can provide.

“This decision will not affect children’s centres or other services for children with special educational needs and disabilities.’’

Currently 22 staff are employed at the local authority day nurseries. If the closures go ahead following consultation, these staff will be offered support, including training and professional development, to help suitably qualified staff to find roles in other parts of the council.

Posted on Tuesday 26th June 2018