£8m fund to tackle London's childcare shortage
Friday, December 13, 2013
The government has given a funding boost to early years services in London after figures show only half of the capital's councils have enough nursery places available to provide free childcare for all disadvantaged two-year-olds.
The data, collected through a Freedom of Information request by Labour, shows that just 16 of London's 32 local authorities have enough nursery places for all the children eligible for free childcare.
Since September, parents of England’s 130,000 most disadvantaged two-year-olds have been able to claim 15 hours of free childcare through a government-backed scheme.
The figures came to light as the government announced £8m of funding for a range of measures to increase childcare provision in the capital.
As well as paying for the free childcare scheme, the fund – announced by childcare minister Elizabeth Truss and Mayor of London Boris Johnson – will be used to provide additional childcare places for three- and four-year-olds.
Funding will also be spent on helping school nurseries extend their opening hours to 8am until 6pm, from the current 9am until 3pm.
Truss said the aim is to make it easier for parents to access more flexible childcare.
She said: “School nurseries already provide almost 50 per cent of the three- and four-year-old places for London children, but often sit empty for parts of the day when they could help.
“This new approach will help more schools, nurseries and childminders offer places at times we know parents need them.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, has welcomed the new funding, but fears it will not be enough to provide parents with the support they require.
She said: “High quality, affordable childcare is a crucial part of life for many families in modern Britain and is essential in helping parents to work and care for children – particularly in London.
“Although this announcement comes nowhere near the revolution we need to increase childcare places and reduce the costs for parents, it is welcome, as it begins to recognise that flexibility is one of the main things parents are looking for.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, wants nurseries to spend the funding carefully to ensure sustainability.
She said: “Two-year-old places will be in high demand in London, which has a fast growing population and large pockets of disadvantaged areas.
“Nurseries have the capacity to grow and provide the extra places needed, but the correct funding must be put in place to make the places a reality.”
Shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell says the new funding is “too little, too late”.
She said: “Families in London face a childcare crunch with costs up, places down and cuts in financial support, while half of London councils say they don’t have enough childcare places for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds."