Childcare fee cuts anger nursery bosses

Vicki Edwards and daughter Kerry Marshall outside Kingsway Playgroup.  Kerry is the manager of Kingsway.
Vicki Edwards and daughter Kerry Marshall outside Kingsway Playgroup. Kerry is the manager of Kingsway.

A children’s nursery operator has slammed the county council after new guidelines were issued which meant some of his staff were no longer entitled to free childcare if their own children attend the same nursery.

Colin Edwards, who runs Abacus day Nursery in Morecambe’s West End and Kingsway Playgroup & Pre-School Centre in Heysham with his wife Vicki, was emailed by Lancashire County Council on Friday to say that from next term, any members of staff who have their own children at the nurseries would no longer able to claim the statutory 15 hours of free childcare each week.

The council said this ruling fell under the Childcare Act.

Currently, everyone with a child aged three or four is entitled to 15 hours of childcare paid for by the county council.

Mr Edwards said his own daughter, Kerry Marshall, who is manager at the Kingsway centre, would be affected by the ruling, as well as five other members of staff out of a total of 19 across his two nurseries.

Kerry would also be unable to move her child to the Abacus nursery, since grandparents are included in the decision.

Mr Edwards said: “As childcare providers we have been claiming the money back from the county council, but they have told us that we can no longer claim if the parents work at one of our settings.

“The Childcare Act says it is if the parents are providing the care, but it is us that are providing the care, not them.

“A lot of nurseries will be affected. Some don’t allow their staff’s children to attend, but a lot do.

“We have got six staff that will be affected. They will now have to either move their child to another setting or pay an extra £60 a week.

“It’s worrying for them and the last thing we want is to lose any staff.

“Every nursery around here is full. This is very short notice and I just cannot see the rationale for it.”

Mr Edwards said that in many cases, staff work in groups away from their children.

The National Day Nursery Association has emailed its members, saying “This is very concerning and we are looking into it with our local network chair who will be asking for clarification from the county council.

“We have also raised the issue with the Department for Education for clarification on this interpretation of the Childcare Act by Lancashire as it’s not something we’ve come across in other local authorities.”

Bob Stott, director of children’s services, said the council was now planning to clarify the issue with the Department for Education.

He said: “We wrote to our early years providers last Friday regarding eligibility for free early education payments, particularly in relation to their own or their relatives’ children. This was based on information received from the Department for Education (DfE).

“Since then, a number of concerns have been raised about the implementation of this policy with regard to group settings, such as nurseries.

“We are currently in discussion with the DfE, and we should be able to share the outcome of this by Friday April 10.

“In the meantime we’d like to confirm that there will be no changes to the present arrangements and there is no need for children to be moved from the day-care placements they are in at the moment. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“The rules for childminders are clear though, in that they cannot be paid for looking after their children or their relatives’ children.”