A new £1.47m support package has been launched by Norfolk County Council to provide financial help to childcare providers during the covid-19 pandemic.
Up to £850,000 of funding is being made available for the summer term to support those nurseries, pre-schools and childminders who have remained open to provide essential childcare to critical workers and vulnerable children but are struggling financially.
Up to a further £600,000 is available to support all providers as more children return and the sector recovers.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We have been working hard throughout this emergency to support nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. They look after our youngest children AND have played an essential role in keeping vital services running.
“Many providers are small businesses and we know that covid-19 has hit some of them hard financially. We’ve been giving them advice and support to access the government support that’s available and are pleased we can now set up this extra fund, to help those who are continuing to struggle. It’s crucial that we support this sector, so that key workers can continue to work and also ensure there are sufficient childcare places throughout the county, as we begin to recover from the pandemic.
“We are tremendously grateful to those who have stayed open and will continue to help and support them as much as we can.”
The £1.47m package is available as a result of parental entitlements for early years dedicated schools grant (DSG) money being unclaimed due to the pandemic, alongside amended government rules regarding its use.
One of the reasons the early years sector is facing financial pressure is that a significant source of its income comes from parents paying privately for childcare. As most have been shut to all but vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers, this income has dwindled.
The government’s covid-19 recovery strategy states that nurseries and other early year providers, including childminders, can begin welcoming back all children from June 1. The council expects a gradual increase in numbers and, therefore, providers will need support into the autumn term.
Additional help that the county council is providing also includes:
Continuing to pay the early education funding for eligible two, three and four-year-olds who cannot attend, even if settings are closed (as long as closures comply with current government requirements)
Paying 50pc of early education funding upfront in April to support providers’ cashflow
Sending regular alerts to providers with updated guidance and financial advice.
Helping providers navigate the national support on offer
Ensuring specialist staff are available to respond to telephone and other queries by maintaining the early years advice line.
And working with district councils to ensure providers are receiving information about available cash grants and business rates relief.
Norfolk County Council does not normally run early years settings, but it has a statutory responsibility to ensure there is sufficient local provision for working families. Last week, a total of 1,297 critical worker children and 198 vulnerable children attended placements during the lockdown at 378 providers across the county that remained open.
Managers of settings and childminders who have financial or other concerns can contact the Early Years’ Service at Norfolk County Council on 0344 800 8020 or email EarlyYearsChildcare@norfolk.gov.uk.