Number of nurseries and childcare providers in Norfolk falls by 15pc

New figures have revealed how dozens of nurseries and childcare providers in Norfolk have closed. PH

New figures have revealed how dozens of nurseries and childcare providers in Norfolk have closed. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

More than one in seven nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Norfolk have closed since 2015, new statistics have revealed.

Once Upon a Time Nursery School at White House Farm, Sprowston. Owners, John and Julie Banbury. Pict

Once Upon a Time Nursery School at White House Farm, Sprowston. Owners, John and Julie Banbury. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

And the Pre-school Learning Alliance has called for 'urgent action' to address a funding crisis which it says could lead to more closing in the years ahead.

In March 2015, there were 966 providers registered with Ofsted in Norfolk. As of March this year that had dropped by 145 to 821. In Suffolk, there were 694 such providers on the register at the end of March 2018, 110 fewer than in March 2015, a fall of around one in eight.

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, certain eligible parents can claim an extra 15 hours.

And the Pre-school Learning Alliance argues the funding the government gives for the scheme is not enough to cover the costs incurred by providers.

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That has sparked fears that has contributed to providers shutting, potentially reducing the number of places available.

However, in Norfolk, the number of actual childcare places available at the end of March this year was unchanged from the previous year.

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And a Norfolk County Council spokeswoman said: 'The policy required the expansion of childcare provision and in Norfolk served to stimulate the market with several larger day nursery providers expanding the number of settings they ran.

'Despite concerns about the sustainability of businesses receiving a funding rate below the actual cost of delivery for most providers, many of the closures we have seen have been due to groups not having stable governance arrangements.

'We have robust numbers of providers delivering and children receiving the extended hours in Norfolk. The take up of early years funded places in Norfolk is above national average for both two-year-olds and three and four-year-olds.'

But Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: 'Smaller nurseries, for example in rural areas where they operate out of a village hall, are having to close because they just don't get the economies of scale that the larger ones do.'

Nadhim Zahawi, government minister for children and families, said the government supports new childcare providers by providing grants to reimburse them for some set up costs.

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'At some point the government is going to have to act, because it is going to get worse'.

Those are the words of John Banbury, who co-owns Once Upon A Nursery School, which has four sites in Norwich.

He said: 'The funding we receive is about 20pc less than what it needs to be. We are able to charge extra for consumables, such as food and nappies.

'But the pre-schools which cannot do that, so they can only survive on the money they get from the government and by fundraising. We are thankful that we have got a wonderful reputation and have been able to expand what we offer.'

Jo Billham, who runs Mulberry Bush Day Nursery in Mulbarton said they also had to impose extra charges - and explain why to parents.

She was frustrated the government described it as free childcare, which she said gave the wrong impression and said it should have been described as subsidised.

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