The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has expressed disappointment at Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi's responses during a nursery sector debate.
At the 'Sustainability of the nursery sector’ debate, in Westminster Hall on October 10, MPs including Mr Zahawi and Shadow Minister Tracy Brabin discussed challenges faced by Early Years professionals.
Despite some MPs citing the NDNA's annual survey results, alongside recently released closure findings, to support their points Mr Zahawi told MPs there was no evidence for widespread nursery closures and refused to say whether he was lobbying the Chancellor for better funding ahead of the Budget.
One of the main challenges discussed was business rates and several MPs brought up this issue:
- Tracy Brabin referred to the recent business rates petition with more than 10,000 signatures. Mr Zahawi didn’t mention this in his response.
- Rachel Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, cited £11k business rate increases in her constituency – the Minister replied that the Government had increased the threshold from £6k to £12k, with £65m to support nurseries with business rates and said he would be revaluating this more frequently. He also pointed out that local authorities (LAs) have the power to give business rates relief and urged MPs to contact their LA about doing that.
Several MPs also raised the fact that nursery schools didn’t pay VAT but private and voluntary nurseries do - an unfair situation. Mr Zahawi responded that nothing could be done about this until the UK leaves the EU.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “We welcome this debate which was tabled by MP for Bolton West Chris Green who was lobbied by our members there.
“Some pertinent points were made about key issues such as funding, costs, closures and other challenges facing the sector, but disappointingly the Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi didn’t answer some of the questions put directly to him.
“He refused to be drawn about whether he was lobbying the Chancellor ahead of the autumn budget for more money to put into funded childcare.
“Although the petition to scrap business rates for nurseries received more than 10,000 signatures requiring a response from Government, the Minister refused to comment on it. Instead he called on local authorities to give discounts to nurseries and for MPs to encourage them. Local authorities are already cash-strapped and the Government must ensure this happens at a national level.
“Several MPs spoke of their anxieties about nursery closures with many quoting NDNA’s latest research that closures had increased by 66% since 30 hours was rolled out a year ago. Mr Zahawi replied that there was no evidence of widespread closures and said that Ofsted’s March figures showed the number of places was stable. Each closure results in heartbreak for children, families and staff but he brushed our research aside.
“The depth of concern across England was highlighted clearly. The Government must now listen to the sector and politicians if they are serious in their ambitions to improve children’s outcomes and support families with childcare costs."