Ipswich children’s nursery says it is staying open despite government “U-turn” over financial support

A Busy Bees Nursery display created by children to make NHS staff smile Picture: BUSY BEES

A Busy Bees Nursery display created by children to make NHS staff smile Picture: BUSY BEES - Credit: BUSY BEES

A nursery in Ipswich is staying open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children during the Covid-19 crisis despite not being financially viable.

Spitfires Nursery in Ipwich is part of Alpha Nurseries Picture: ALPHA NURSERIES

Spitfires Nursery in Ipwich is part of Alpha Nurseries Picture: ALPHA NURSERIES - Credit: ALPHA NURSERIES

Busy Bees, which operates Ipswich Rushmere nursery, has kept this centre, and more than 100 others nationwide, open in order to continue providing crucial care, education and support for these children.

The provider says this is despite an update to government guidance over financial support - something the company describes as a “U-turn”.

The Department for Education now says where employers already receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, they expect them to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them.

MORE: ‘We should not get carried away’: Suffolk leaders urge caution as UK passes coronavirus peakThe government’s coronavirus job retention scheme ensures furloughed staff receive up to 80% of their usual monthly wage costs.

Marg Randles, founder of Busy Bees, which looks after over 55,000 children globally, said: “There has been much comment about a lack of places at nurseries for the children of key workers and criticism where providers have taken the difficult decision to close. It is easy to understand the frustration felt by those who need childcare and cannot access it, but also for many providers in the sector, difficult decisions have had to be taken.

“For us, we wanted to be part of a solution by keeping our nurseries open, despite it not being commercially viable for many of these centres, and not create further problems for under-pressure key worker parents and the government by completely shutting up shop.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said the government had “back-tracked” on its commitment to allow providers to access its furlough scheme and continue to receive funded early education places (‘free’ entitlement funding).

She said: “The funding for early education does not cover the cost of delivering that place for most providers and we are concerned many will now have no option but to face the risk of permanent closure when this pandemic is over.”

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David Finch, managing director of Alpha Nurseries, which has six sites in the Ipswich area, said the update to the government guidance had “thrown” providers who thought they could use their local authority funding and also claim the government job retention scheme, adding the information “was not overly clear” at the start.

Mr Finch previously spoke to us about the financial struggles of his company during the pandemic.

He has managed to secure a £220,000 loan from the bank, adding: “We are basically okay until around the end of July, and we do have an insurance claim going in.”

Mr Finch has promised to pay back parents who have still been paying some fees while their children aren’t attending if the money comes through.

He said now we were “past the peak” of the disease in the UK, there had been an increase in the number of children returning from key worker families “which is positive”.

With growing speculation around how long the current lockdown restrictions will last, Ipswich Rushmere nursery will be accepting new enrolments for the children of key workers, vulnerable children or families struggling to find childcare provision over the coming months.

Ms Randles added: “The global Covid-19 pandemic has brought huge changes and challenges to everyone across the world, and while we continue to celebrate the incredible commitment of our NHS and key workers it is important to remember the part our dedicated nursery teams have to play in providing care, education and a little normality for children during these challenging times.”

MORE: Coronavirus: ‘This is purely about survival’ - nursery MD on trying to keep the company afloat “I have described this as a bit of a roller coaster really,” Mr Finch said. “Ups and downs and we have always said [to businesses], take proper advice about things.

“There have been people saying they cannot furlough and they have read it on Facebook.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “An early years provider can access the coronavirus job retention scheme to cover up to the proportion of its salary bill which could be considered to have been paid for from that provider’s private income.

“This would typically be income received from ‘parent-paid’ hours and excludes all income from the government’s free early education entitlements (or ‘early years dedicated schools grant income’) for all age groups.”

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