There are enough nursery staff and places for 15 hour childcare plan to work, government insists

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the Busy Bees nursery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the Busy Bees nursery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

The Prime Minister has insisted the government’s rollout of free childcare is “really positive” despite nursery groups warning some parents will not get into their first choice place.

From this week, working parents of two-year-olds are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare.

Responding to criticism that some nurseries are unable to meet demand, Rishi Sunak said the rollout of the scheme has been done slowly and in stages to ensure there are enough staff and places, adding “and I am pleased to say that is happening.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Newcastle about the government’s scheme to give more free childcare to working parents, he said: “Funnily enough when we announced this, some of the criticism we got at the time was why can’t this be delivered tomorrow, why can’t you do this very quickly, and actually…we said no, we need to just take the time…we wanted to take the  time to address all of those questions because it is a big change  and we do need to make sure we have got the right number of staff and places.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also insisted on Tuesday there are enough staff to deliver the increased childcare places.

150,000 families are expected to be allocated a childcare place under the new scheme within the next few days.

Asked on BBC Breakfast if there are enough staff, Ms Keegan said: “Yes, we have 13,000 more staff than we had last year.” She added she was “very confident” about the plans.

But Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association said: “We know that providers have been working extremely hard to be ready for today’s roll-out but they face extremely challenging circumstances including last-minute funding decisions, workforce shortages and getting access to capital support to expand. In our recent survey almost half of providers said they didn’t believe they would be able to offer extra places. Parents may find that there aren’t places in their first choice areas and we know parental choice is crucial when it comes to the care and well-being of their children.”

The government’s multi-million pound childcare reforms have been billed as the biggest expansion of childcare in a generation.

From this week parents of two-year-olds will be eligible for 15 hours free care.

The plans will ultimately see working parents of children as young as nine months old entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week, by September 2025.

Parents must earn less than £100,000 a year to qualify for the new hours.

Labour’s Pat McFadden, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said Labour has asked David Bell, the former head of Ofsted, to carry out a review on the availability of childcare. Speaking on BBC Today Programme he said: “The entitlements have to be matched by the availability of the places and I don’t believe that ministers can sit here and tell you those places are available.”