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'Our children need us': funding change could leave nurseries struggling to provide services

PUBLISHED: 13:52 11 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:52 11 June 2019

JCB's Childcare manager, Jennifer Harper, front, who is unhappy with the change in nursery funding arrangements. With her is nursery assistant Angel Beaumont, at the nursery at Catton Grove. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

JCB's Childcare manager, Jennifer Harper, front, who is unhappy with the change in nursery funding arrangements. With her is nursery assistant Angel Beaumont, at the nursery at Catton Grove. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

Nurseries and childminders are facing a struggle to afford basic resources for their children this summer after a sudden change to council funding arrangements.

JCB's Childcare manager, Jennifer Harper, left, who is unhappy with the change in nursery funding arrangements. With her is nursery assistant Angel Beaumont, at the nursery at Catton Grove. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJCB's Childcare manager, Jennifer Harper, left, who is unhappy with the change in nursery funding arrangements. With her is nursery assistant Angel Beaumont, at the nursery at Catton Grove. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk County Council is amending the way it distributes funding for the summer term, with payments now set to be over five months rather than four.

More than half of the 340 early years providers - including nurseries, preschools and childminders - who responded to a consultation on the changes voted in favour.

But the new system is set to be implemented next week - and the significant cuts being made to June and July funding to allow for an August payment (up to 40pc in some cases) will leave providers struggling.

Lacey Douglass is a bookkeeper for The Heathers Nursery and Arden Grove Preschool in Hellesdon and St Faith's Preschool in Horsham St Faith, which together stand to get thousands of pounds less than expected over the next two months.

She said the summer term was often the busiest for nurseries as more children come on to their books - meaning resources will have to be stretched even further.

"Because our income has not gone up recently we have an ever dwindling amount of reserves. We cannot afford something like this," she said.

"We have budgeted for the money we are getting when we are getting it and to change that nine months into the year with two weeks' notice is unacceptable.

"It is a massive amount to lose and the more children you have the more it impacts.

"A lot of settings will not have the reserves in place because they keep having to eat into them."

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Jennifer Harper, of JCB's Childcare in Catton Grove, said she will not be able to meet her wage bill next month due to the changes.

"Our children need us, they need the childcare and those experiences. We cannot just close and it is not realistic to make staff redundant," she said.

"Some smaller settings like mine don't have a lot of money in the bank. We are going to struggle.

"I bought about £500 worth of resources last week - if I had known I would not have done that, I would have waited until August."

JCB's Childcare had its situation reviewed by Norfolk County Council in the first week of June and will not be changing to the new funding scheme until 2020.

Graham Jackets and his wife Maria, who run a childminding business in Reepham, are also set to lose out. Mr Jackets said the majority of their clients are school teachers, who will not need their services in August during the school holidays.

"When the council first suggested that payment terms be changed I was against it and made sure that I and colleagues voted against extending the payments in the summer months. At no time did I think that, even if the vote went against us, the council would change mid-way through the term," he said.

Norfolk County Council said providers had been informed during the consultation period that the changes would be implemented this term and that from 2020 providers would receive a roughly 20pc of their summer term funding in each of the five months.

John Fisher, county council cabinet member for children's services, said: "This change does not involve any reduction in funding, but it is designed to spread payments over a longer period to aid cashflow through into August when, previously, providers had no income.

"However, we fully understand that these changes may cause issues for some providers and we have already agreed to make alternative arrangements with some, including keeping the current system in place for this term.

"So, we would strongly encourage any provider for whom this new system may cause issues this term, to contact the Early Years finance team as soon as possible to discuss potential alternative arrangements."

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