Parents ‘priced out’ as community nursery fees sky-rocket

757
Parents have been protesting outside the nursery in Bedford (photo: Change.org)

A community nursery provider’s decision to increase the minimum number of hours means adding fees that parents can’t afford, a councillor has claimed.

Parents’ concerns about the changes planned by One YMCA were discussed at this week’s Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Monday 23 May).

Councillor Jane Walker (Conservative, Clapham Ward) asked about the changes which will affect community nurseries in Queens Park, Goldington and Wootton.

“Instead of offering the children 30 hours that they can have free of charge, they have to now take 10 hours a day minimum,” she said.

“Parents have got to pay for any extra, and they’ve got to go 51 weeks a year instead of term-time only.

“This has meant, or is going to mean, a huge increase in the fees for parents and they literally can’t afford it.

“Is that anything that we’re looking at that we can do to actually help the parents who are in this terrible situation,” she asked.

Wendy Beeton-Townshend, head of early help and intervention at the council replied that she had been talking to One YMCA about the matter.

“They are sorry for the distress that they are causing, and they realise that they should have communicated far more effectively,” she said.

“We are working with them to minimise the damage and to work with families to look at a way forward.

“They are prepared to work with families on an individual basis to make sure that families can express their concerns.”

Ms Beeton-Townshend said it is important that early years education is not disrupted, and that children in need are a particular concern for the council.

“I have asked One YMCA to go away and do some more modelling based on some information and data that we shared with them last week.

“I’m waiting for their director of operations to come back to me and I’m hoping that that will happen this week.

“We have another formal meeting with them on 8 June to seek to resolve as much as we possibly can around the issues for our most vulnerable children and young people,” she said.

Responding to calls from his constituents, Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour), asked a question in Education Questions in the House of Commons this week (Monday 23 May).

Questioning Will Quince, parliamentary under-secretary for education, he asked: “Parents of children attending the YMCA community nursery in Bedford are facing unaffordable sevenfold price increases.

“Rising business costs, huge losses and staff shortages are the consequences of the Government’s funding model, which goes nowhere near funding the costs for nurseries or parents.

“Does the Minister agree that levelling up means nothing if children cannot access the best start to their education and their parents cannot work because they cannot afford nursery costs?

Mr Quince responded by saying: “That is exactly why we spend more than £5 billion a year on childcare and early years, including: the offer for disadvantaged two-year-olds; the offer of 15 and 30 hours for three and four-year-olds, which is worth about £6,000 per child to parents; the universal credit offer, which is worth up to 85% of childcare costs; the tax-free childcare; and the holiday activities and food programme.

“Of course, we take this issue incredibly seriously.”

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a spokesperson for One YMCA said: “We have been serving the people of Herts, Beds and Bucks for more than 135 years, doing everything we are able and can to help those in the community who need it most – especially young people, families and the most vulnerable.

“As such we deeply regret having to make the changes to our operational model at our three Bedford nurseries, especially knowing that it could prevent some families from being able to access our services.

“However with direct operational losses across the three nurseries of more than £339K in the last year alone and no further support or funding available to us, we have had no option.

“We do though remain fully committed to supporting the nurseries – seeking to ensure we can maintain their operation. So that our incredible teams can continue delivering their amazing care and support to all of the children they look after, ” they said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Erica Roffe

Now more than ever, we need your help to fund the Bedford Independent’s quality journalism that serves our community...

We choose to champion editorial independence, meaning we report the facts without bias and can stand up to those in power when we believe it’s needed.

We can give a voice to people in our community whose voices may otherwise not be heard. And we don’t have a paywall, so everyone can read the stories we publish for free.

But in this time of crisis, many news organisations all over the world are facing existential threat, with advertising revenues plummeting. We’re no different.

We work hard every day to bring you news, commentary, entertainment and announcements from across Bedford. We hope that, with your help, we’ll be able to continue this for many years to come.

Will you help sustain our work today by clicking below ? Even a small donation makes a difference for our future.

Thank you for your support.