Hornchurch nursery founder fears early years providers could close down after Government policy u-turn

Scallywags Nursery company director Emma Reynolds. Picture: Scallywags Hornchurch

Scallywags Nursery company director Emma Reynolds. Picture: Scallywags Hornchurch - Credit: Scallywags Hornchurch

A Hornchurch nursery founder has warned that early years providers may be forced to close down following a Government u-turn on funding support during the coronavirus crisis.

Scallywags Nursery in Suttons Lane, Hornchurch. Picture: Scallywags Hornchurch

Scallywags Nursery in Suttons Lane, Hornchurch. Picture: Scallywags Hornchurch - Credit: Scallywags Hornchurch

Emma Reynolds, company director of Scallywags Nursery, told the Recorder that the current situation was the most challenging she had ever faced since opening in 2002.

She has now written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for more support for the childcare sector and said: “We provide a valuable service to the community caring for children from birth to four-years old; this allows parents to work safe in the knowledge their children are safe.

“If my business and the businesses of my competitors were to close, it would have a devastating effect on our staff and those that rely on us to look after their children whilst they work.”

Emma is particularly concerned about a Government policy change affecting early years providers.

In March the Department for Education (DfE) published guidance confirming that nurseries and other providers could continue to receive ‘free entitlement’ funding for children not attending and would also be able to benefit from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The latest DfE guidance says a private nursery provider, such as Scallywags, can only furlough staff if they are not paid for through the government’s free entitlement funding.

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She said: “This change has been made at the last minute when many providers have already budgeted, planned and, in some cases, furloughed staff.

“The early years sector was already struggling financially before the coronavirus crisis. This removal of the support that has been promised for weeks could mean mass redundancies and setting closures.”

The nursery originally remained open for key workers but Emma said it was only having up to four children attending a day - it normally has around 50.

“It just wasn’t financially viable to stay open,” she said.

Emma has now temporarily closed the nursery and has furloughed 60 per cent of her staff.

She pleaded with Mr Sunak to allow childcare providers to furlough as well as receiving the free entitlement funding.

“I have got a full daycare nursery so I can furlough a percentage of my staff. Some playgroups do not even have that so I just do not know how they will be able to keep afloat.

“We do not know how long this is going to go on for. We will probably one of the first industries to go back but it is just that we do not know when the end game is going to come. That is the issue - how do we plan for it? The only alternative is to make our staff redundant and none of us want to do that.”

A Havering Council spokeswoman said: “The local authority introduced a range of financial support early on for childcare providers, which included ensuring they continued to be funded on their usual numbers and not reducing their funding if their numbers fell, or they needed to close.

“It also includes continued funding for providers if parents decided to move their child to other facilities, and for over the Easter holidays, so providers can take advantage of this support.

“A small 2pc contingency budget was agreed to be retained to help support providers taking in additional children.”

Emma also suggested a hub should have been set up at a school in Havering to allow key workers to send their children to one place for childcare.

The council said it had considered using hubs but that the DfE is clear that hubs may increase the risk of spreading Covid-19.

The spokeswoman added: “We’re constantly reviewing the provision that remains open for key workers and vulnerable children.

“Providing support through individual schools means there are fewer people in a single situation, less social contact and reduced risk.

“Children who can’t attend their existing childcare provider are directed to the day nurseries, schools and childminders that remain open.”

The Recorder contacted the Department of Education for comment but did not receive a response at the time of going to press.