Northamptonshire County Council asks government for extra time to sort out early years budget

Early years providers face a cut to their payments from April.
Early years providers face a cut to their payments from April.

Northamptonshire County Council will ask the Government for an extension to sort out its early years funding problem.

Nurseries and childminders were extremely angered over the weekend when the authority’s plans emerged to cut subsidies to the tune of £1.8m.

The proposal would have largely impacted on the best and most qualified early years providers as it would have taken £1m away from quality supplements.

The schools forum was due to make a decision on the funding cut yesterday (March 21) but decided against it after a backlash from the early years providers.

The authority will now go to the Department for Education to ask for more time to get its budget together. It should by law submit the budget to the DfE by March 31.

The council’s deputy director of children’s services Sharon Muldoon told providers: “We will speak to the DfE to see if we can get an extension. We have the budget proposal and that is not going to go away. We should have done this before now, but we are where we are.

“Next year we will make sure we have a forward plan to avoid this scenario. We need to do this with you rather than just look at what works for us.”

The council will now look at other ways to save the £1.8m from the early years budget. It says it will have overspent by £1.5m in the current 18/19 financial year.

The original plan, which was to keep the base rate the same, which is £3.66 per hour per child for three to four years olds and £5.10 for two year olds.

The council was proposing to reduce the quality supplement, which can add an extra 50p per hour for providers. There was also to be subsidies taken away from those who look after children from deprived areas and those who look after children with special educational needs.

The early years funds are passed down to the council from the government. The early years budget has had a reduction from central government. Overall £45m is spent on early years services in the county. A total of 10,485 children are looked after by 600 providers.

At the meeting headteacher of the Parklands Nursery School in Northampton Sarah Brooking said: “This proposal will close us. We have looked at our budget and if the quality supplement is taken away it will cost us £60,000 per year.”

Sam Evans, who owns nurseries in Corby and Northampton, said that in the previous consultation early years providers had been misled as it had implied there would be a base rate increase, which is why some providers had said they would be happy for the council to remove the subsidies. The council then proposed to remove the subsidy without raising the base rate. She said the settings had been encouraged by the council to train staff to a higher level, but would now not be paid for that and have to cover the cost themselves.

Joint head of Pen Green Children’s Centre in Corby, Angela Prodger, said: “We have not had time to speak as a sector. The papers came to us at Friday lunchtime.”

There will now need to be an extraordinary schools forum meeting convened to agree the early years budget.

This is the latest issue to face Northamptonshire County Council’s children’s service department. Ofsted found it was failing in November with more than 250 children without an allocated social worker and failures at the ‘front door’ of the service, where child protection issues are often first raised.

Children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam was sent in by the Government to sort out the department. A report into his findings is yet to be published.

The early years providers have also had almost two years of ongoing financial problems because the council has not being able to run its computer system properly. This resulted in hundreds of providers being paid wrongly or late and is still ongoing.