The Chair referred to page 52 and commented that the prices for childcare were shocking and was concerned that some families would not be able to afford these prices. She questioned whether there were funded childcare places for 2 year olds. She pointed out that families earning the living wage would not qualify for funded places and with the amount spent on childcare costs, it was hardly worth working. She felt that childcare costs were not affordable for Thurrock residents and that there were no provisions during the school holidays in which parents still had to work. Andrea Winstone answered that there were funded childcare places that most parents were entitled to and that these were usually for 3 to 4 year olds. She explained that the childcare rates were from nurseries who provided the childcare and that the provision was there. She said that there was no government funding for 2 year olds as the provision was economically low. There were some schools that provided free after school provisions and children with free school meals had access to holiday provisions.
Councillor Watson thought the breakdown of the nursery provisions in each ward was useful. Referring to the figures in Tilbury and St Chads, she noted that provision was needed and was concerned that there would not be enough due to the two nurseries closing in Tilbury. Michele Lucas said that the consultation for the two nurseries had just ended and potential providers had stated that it they had the capabilities to increase the capacities if needed. She stated that she was cautiously optimistic with finding providers for the nurseries as there were still processes to be completed. Andrea Winstone explained that there had not been issues of parents unable to find childcare placements in the Tilbury and St Chads and that the figures were based on the number of children in the area, not the number of provisions needed as not all parents sent their children into nurseries.
The Chair mentioned a nursery in Chadwell that had been closed and sought more detail which officers would discuss outside of the meeting.
The Chair noted that 8 out of 22 wards had insufficient childcare placements and that one of the wards would have significant development taking place. Michele Lucas explained that the report enabled potential providers to identify where there were opportunities for childcare facilities. It was the statutory duty of the Council to provide placement and the service worked with providers on this.
The Chair asked whether private providers could provide affordable and flexible childcare placements. Michele Lucas explained that the business model for childcare businesses included government funded places and private charges. There were some schools that were keen to include nurseries in their schools to enable a child to start nursery there to ensure an education pathway in the school. Andrea Winstone said that there was a Childcare Sufficiency Officer that worked with providers to ensure they were supported. She said that there were not full nurseries in the borough so there was no demand for more placements.
The Chair queried whether there was data on the number of providers that had closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Andrea Winstone answered that there were two. One was not financially viable and the other one was unable to acquire the number of placements needed to keep the nursery running. No providers had lost money due to the pandemic as they were paid through the Early Years Funding.
The Chair requested that a briefing note to be circulated to the Committee to update them on the progress of finding providers.
That Children’s Services O&S reviewed and approved the Annual Childcare Sufficiency Assessment 2021.