Cross party criticism of Government’s ‘disjointed and insufficient’ childcare system

A council and its Liberal Democrat opposition have hit out at the Government’s “insufficient’ childcare scheme after figures show a dramatic drop in early years places.

Childcare places in Southwark have fallen by 332 since 2019, according to new figures revealed in House of Commons Library research commissioned by the Lib Dems.

Data showed that the South London borough had the third largest reduction across the capital, behind only Ealing and Camden.

The majority of childcare places were lost last year alone, with a reduction of 214.

It comes as applications opened on Monday for parents to register for 15 hours of free childcare from September, for children from 9 months old. 

The Lib Dems said the fall in providers throws doubt on the Government’s plans.

Lib Dem parliamentary spokeswoman for Southwark, Cllr Rachel Bentley said: “Childcare in Southwark has been driven to the brink by years of neglect from this Conservative Government. Local parents have been left completely without options.

“Free hours are no good if parents can’t find a nursery or childminder for their child – and thanks to this Conservative government’s underfunding, many parents in Southwark now face a near impossible task of finding childcare.  

“The government urgently needs to review the rates it pays providers to ensure they cover the actual costs of delivering high-quality childcare and early years education.” 

The party is calling on the Government to review the rates paid to providers for free hours to ensure they cover the “actual costs” of delivering high-quality childcare. 

Southwark’s Labour run council echoed these concerns.

Cllr Jasmine Ali, deputy leader and cabinet member for children, education and refugees, said: “We share in concerns about the Government’s system of early years childcare, which is currently disjointed with insufficient funding available, only adding to pressures around increased costs and workforce challenges.

“London councils have been urging the Government to work with us to better support the early years sector and improve its financial sustainability.”

But, Cllr Ali also noted that a drop in the borough’s birth rate may also be a contributing factor, with 1,000 less children born in Southwark in 2022 compared to five years before, according to the most recent data.

Nationally, the number of childcare providers, including nurseries and childminders, has dropped by a fifth since 2019, from 61,162 to 48,143. Every area in the country but one has seen a fall in the number of childcare providers since 2019, according to the data.

Last month the National Audit Office criticised the Government’s roll out saying that dates for the scheme were decided without the Department for Education (DfE) or the Treasury understanding whether the sector would be able to provide the number of places needed. 

The independent public spending watchdog recommended the DfE continuously review the expansion.

Cllr Ali said: “In Southwark, we have a wide range of good quality early years and childcare providers. 

“If you are having difficulty, we can help. Call our family information service on 0800 013 0639 or email”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “This research is completely misleading as it ignores childcare places within schools. The reality is that the number of registered childcare places has increased by around 40,000 since 2018.

“Every local authority is currently meeting its duty to ensure there are sufficient places and we are confident they will meet parental demand for this coming September, as all of them have done with the first stage of the rollout in April.

“Average Government funding rates for under twos from September is set at almost double the average parent-paid rates. Parents can therefore have confidence in our rollout, which is set to save those using the full 30 hours an average of £6,900 per year.”

(Picture: Pixabay)

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