Free childcare places at Redbridge nurseries not guaranteed to parents

Parents might not be guaranteed a free nursery place for their child next year after warnings about underfunding for childcare schemes.

The director of an independent nursery has warned providers may not be able to offer 30 hours of free childcare per week, due to a funding shortfall between central and local government.

The rate paid to local authorities from Westminster, to provide up to 15 hours a week of free childcare, is set at £3.88 per hour for each child aged three to four-years-old but is to increase to £4.88 per hour for 30 hours.

But Redbridge Council currently retains 18 per cent of the rate in administration fees leaving independent nursery representative Louise Felsted worried about delivering the increased service.

“Nurseries will suffer,” she said.

Mrs Felsted who also represents private and voluntary nurseries at the Redbridge Schools Funding forum, is concerned about how much the administration fee for the new rate will be.

She said that the current amount deducted means the remainder passed onto nurseries is far below their actual running costs.

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A spokeswoman for Green Lane Nursery, Green Lane, Ilford, said its hourly cost per child per hour was almost double what the local authority pays.

She added: “The nursery had a shortfall of more than £33,000 this term.”

To recoup losses, nurseries often pass on to parents a higher premium for addition hours required after the free time is used up.

Poorer families may not be able to afford the premiums, affecting parents trying to return to full-time work and this could limit the number of free spaces made available.

One 28-year-old mum, whose son attends Eastwood Day Nursery, Eastwood Road, Goodmayes, said she paid more than £100 per week.

“Free childcare is a great thing for parents going back to work, but the cost provided by the government does not meet the full hour.”

A report by the National Audit Office showed while nurseries were keen to offer free childcare, they may also “choose not to if the funding is not right”.

The report said spots for two-year-olds – which are more expensive to provide – could be reduced to accommodate places for three and four-year-olds.

“It’s not all about money but there is a reality as to what nurseries can afford,” continued Mrs Felsted.

“It depends on how much the authority will pay per hour.”

But a spokesman for Redbridge Council said costs could not be predicted due to an ongoing Department for Education (DfE) consultation.