A LOCAL MP has called on the Government to reverse its lack of financial support for nurseries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tracy Brabin, who represents Batley and Spen and is the Shadow Minister for the Cultural Industries has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking him to rethink the decision in order to protect childcare providers.

When the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced in March, many early years settings furloughed the majority of their staff, while staying open for the children of key workers.

The scheme involves the Government contributing 80 per cent of employees wages up to £2,500, to keep them from losing their jobs.

Initial guidance from the Department for Education stated that providers could receive “free entitlement” funding for children not attending their setting during the coronavirus period and also claim the 80 per cent wages for staff furloughed through the scheme.

And an Early Years Alliance survey found that 75 per cent of providers believed they would be able to do just this.

But three days before the CJRS went live, new Government guidance stated providers could only access the scheme based on any private funding over and above the state funding for free childcare places.

Ms Brabin said the withdrawal of support has had a devastating impact, with a quarter of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders believing they will have to close in the next year.

While the Government is advising providers to welcome back children from the start of June, its likely many parents will be apprehensive, and providers are likely to face several more months of financial problems, she added.

Ms Brabin, who was Shadow Minister for the Early Years from July 2017 until January 2020, said: “In my time as Shadow Minister for the Early Years, I saw first-hand the dedication of our childcare providers, working long hours often on low wages to provide the best possible service for our children.

“These formative years are crucial to our children’s development, and unless early years providers are supported by the Government many of these brilliant providers could close for good having a devastating impact for families.

“I’m calling on the Government to recognise the hard work and efforts these key workers have put in at these difficult times and take urgent action to ensure the survival of all our nurseries, pre-schools and childcare settings throughout and beyond the Covid-19 crisis.”

The Department for Education has said the new guidance on the job retention scheme in relation to nurseries was a clarification, not a change.

The director of Bradford’s largest nursery provider, Danielle Dixon, of Kinder Haven, said they had been in a position to make use of the furlough scheme based on around 67 per cent of their income being privately funded.

But that would only cover a portion of the affected workers' and their wages.

"Everybody was under the illusion that we could use the scheme," she said, adding that the rate of government funding for free nursery places did not actually cover staff wages, so there was already a shortfall.

She added that they had already put some finance plans in place ahead of the scheme starting due to concerns funded places may affect any furloughing.

“Subsequent updates changed for the CJRS scheme for early years, education and care that were sector specific stating that we could only claim furlough based on a percentage of our February paybill based on a ratio of private paying clients to funded places.

“The fact that February is a short month and has term-time only weeks make this a lower income month which places you at a disadvantage for the new calculations.  This information should have been clear at the start, this has created a lot of uncertainty for early years and those in childcare - I’m not sure many will survive this going forward.”

She added that they were not eligible for the other support grants, saying: “The percentage of furlough and terms set for early years does not factor in the fact you are still open, paying wages and have the same fixed costs. It costs us more to stay open at our hub sites than it would to close, but we are committed to supporting our families especially those on the front line and our key workers.

“I know it’s going to be a difficult time for all providers around the country.  Darren and I have been fortunate as we had already invested personal money into the company to help with our fixed costs, maintain everyone’s jobs and pay the difference in the furlough. This has not been easy - it’s been an emotional roller coaster with new updates and changes almost every day.”