North Shields nursery owner calls on government to 'pay more' as free childcare hours expanded

Kris Jepson heard what a nursery owner and parents on North Tyneside made of the government's latest childcare rollout

A nursery provider on Tyneside has called for more government support after being forced to hit parents with a 'sustainability fee' in order to stay open.

Amanda Sherriff, who runs Little Hubbers Day Nursery in North Shields, was speaking as the Rishi Sunak launched the expansion of free childcare hours.

The change means eligible parents with two-year-olds can access 15 free hours a week in a bid to encourage and help parents get back into work.

But Ms Sherriff told ITV Tyne Tees while she accepted the policy was good news for parents, it meant nurseries already struggling to find spaces and staff would be running at a loss without introducing a "sustainability fee" of £1 per hour.

"They should take the words free away from that equation," she said. "Nothing is free in life.

"It can only be free if the government actually pay me for what it costs me to run my base rate for this nursery. They haven't done that for year on year on year.

"We've been open five years now and I've taken that payment on the nose up until now but unfortunately now going forward we're going to have to introduce some sustainability fee because if we don't there will be no nurseries for the families to put their children into."

Amanda Sherriff runs Little Hubbers Day Nursery in North Shields. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ms Sherriff said the funding only runs during term-time, or is 'stretched' across the year giving parents 11 hours of free hours a week for one child.

She said it covered education but did not cover food or trips out.

Eligible families with three-year-olds are already able to access 30 free hours a week.

Broken down for her North Tyneside nursery, she said she received £4.88 an hour per three-year-old which resulted in her running at about a £10 to £12 deficit.

"If I've got 50 children all on funding and we're underfunded massively by the government then I'm not going to be here next year," she said. "And that's a simple fact of the matter and that's the same for every single nursery in the area."

Children play at Little Hubbers Day Nursery in North Shields. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

She continued: "The government needs to pay more for these services. In order to get top quality education, top quality childcare for their children, it comes at a price unfortunately."

Two parents outside the nursery cautiously welcomed the introduction of the new rollout of free hours.

One mum said: "It does help, but what I think will probably have a negative effect is what it’s going to have on the nursery, trying to look after all the children, the ratios changed and still affording healthy food for them."

The other mother added: "It is frustrating that we haven’t been able to access the funded hours before now, but it also gives us hope that if we decide to have any further kids, that it will have a positive impact on us."

Speaking at a nursery in Hartlepool, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected the claim that nurseries were full and struggling to get staff - meaning the reality was families could not get places.

Rishi Sunak was in Hartlepool to mark the expansion of the government's childcare policy. Credit: ITV News

"We've backed it with billions of pounds of extra funding. It's total support that is worth around £7,000 for working families. It's really significant and it's part of making sure that parents have that choice about how best to juggle childcare and their careers."

Figures for the end of last year show the North East has the fewest childcare places per child.

There are more than three children aged four and under per childcare place in the region - something which has prompted Labour to describe the North East as a "childcare desert".

However, Mr Sunak said both figures were increasing across the country as a result of investment and time in the government's policy.

He said: "What we've seen over the last year is more childcare places across the country and more people involved in providing - more staff in the sector."

The Prime Minister added that Labour had not committed to the policy.

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