Portsmouth nursery owners fear for future of early education providers after government goes back on furlough commitment

MANY of the city’s nurseries could face potential bankruptcy say nursery owners after the government reneged on its pledge to provide full furlough payments for staff.

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 12:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 7:01 pm
Rainbow Corner Nursery owner, Lucy Whitehead, 42, believes many nurseries which had budgeted for the furlough scheme may now not survive. Picture: Sarah Standing

With nurseries already committed to paying at least 80 per cent of staff wages nursery leaders had already submitted their furlough claims to be processed on April 20 only to be told three days beforehand this policy had now changed.

Early education providers were informed they’d now only be entitled to a certain furlough percentage with the remainder of wages made up from the local authority payments made earlier in the month.

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Cheryl Hadland, managing director of Tops Day Nurseries, was 'physically sick' when she first heard about the changes to eligibility for the furlough scheme.

Tops Day Nurseries managing director, Cheryl Hadland, said: ‘When I heard this news I went into shock and was physically sick. The government made a commitment to pay all nurseries this payment and should follow this through.’

Lucy Whitehead, 42, who owns Rainbow Corner Nursery in Southsea, added: ‘The government did a U-turn and moved the goalposts at the last minute, but we’d already made business decisions based on this money, including retaining and paying our staff.’

Lucy explained government funding allocations only cover the free 15 hours childcare for three and four-year-olds and does not factor in additional children and hours paid for privately.

‘This change is going to leave us thousands of pounds short every month. It’s not just a case of balancing council allocations against furlough shortfalls. This money still needs to be used to pay our overheads which don’t just stop,’ she said.

The situation led to nurseries across the region setting up a petition which has so far attracted nearly 165,000 signatures. It also led to Cheryl writing ‘120 letters to local councillors and MPs’.

Cheryl said: ‘The government have changed their stance to some extent in response these concerns. Nurseries which are still open can now get access to the furlough scheme.

‘This means we can still access the scheme as many of our nurseries are hospital based and so we’re open for key workers. However, for those nurseries which had to close this could be the final nail in the coffin.’

Lucy, whose nursery is shut, added: ‘I’m still confident we should be okay but many nurseries are going to be casualties of this situation. It’s a short-sighted policy from the government as when it comes to getting the economy up and running, parents will eventually have to return to work and they’re going to need childcare.’

The Department for Education have reassured early education providers that a ‘wide range of support is available’.

A spokesman said: ‘Our first priority is ensuring that critical workers and vulnerable children are able to access the childcare places they need at this time. Local authorities will continue to receive free early education entitlement funding throughout the Covid-19 outbreak and a wide range of support is available for early years providers.

‘This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which providers can access for employees whose salary is not covered by public funding.’

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