Early Years Funding and Private Day Nurseries

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2023

Conference notes that in December the Department for Education (DfE) announced that funding to local authorities in England for supported early years places would increase by an average of 3.4% for three and four year olds and by 4% for two year olds. However, some local authorities will only receive less than a 1% increase in funding. Typically, those authorities that are receiving the lowest increases are those with higher rates of deprivation. Conference believes this inequality is outrageous and must be opposed.

Most early years and childcare provision is in the private and voluntary sector, with a very high proportion of staff on the national minimum wage or very close to it. Government funding must match pay levels if potential closures and job cuts are to be avoided.

This contrasts with average funding increases to local authorities of 11% in Wales and 8.2% in Scotland. But with January’s RPI inflation rate standing at 13.4%, all of these so-called increases represent real terms cuts in funding for early years.

Early years settings were also excluded from the additional £2.3 billion additional funding announced for schools in England in December 2022.

Early years settings are facing a staffing crisis, with staff being unable to afford to stay in the sector despite their professional commitment to young children. The lack of funding has made many private providers unviable and many settings are simply closing their doors. This obviously puts the jobs of many UNISON local government members at risk.

Conference recognises that our members working in the privately run early years (under 5’s) day nursery settings are often working in hostile working environments, with low staffing levels, high stress levels, low pay and poor terms and conditions.

Conference notes that according to the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), nurseries across the UK are being forced to close at an alarming rate due to recruitment and retention problems.

OFSTED data has shown that the number of childcare providers had dropped by 5,400 in the year to the end of August 2022, with closures in 110 local authorities.

Conference notes the government’s latest proposal on Family Hubs does not even come close to making up the loss of over 1,300 Sure Start Children’s Centres since 2010. It represents a cynical attempt to repackage Sure Start after it was mercilessly undermined for over a decade by underfunding.

Conference believes a long-term investment strategy that provides high-quality, universal and affordable early years provision is essential to allow children to reach their potential.

Conference also notes that a survey carried out by the Early Years Alliance found there are growing staff shortages in the Early Years sector. The Early Years Alliance found that 84 per cent of settings are finding it ‘difficult’ to recruit the right staff, 60 per cent are finding it ‘very difficult’ and 24 per cent are finding it ‘quite difficult’. More than a third of people who answered the survey said they are actively considering leaving the sector.

Conference believes that the current Early Years Funding Formula is not sufficient and is responsible for poor pay and terms and conditions in the sector which in turn leads to difficulties with recruitment and retention of staff.

Generally UNISON density is low across the sector with most employers not recognising a Trade Union.

Conference believes this must change and therefore conference resolves to request that the Service Group Executive:

1) Develop a campaigning and organising strategy, which could be used by branches and regions, to aid in organising, recruitment and to help win trade union recognition in the private early years day nursery sector. Use of BSOF should also be promoted as part of this strategy;

2) Develop a model pay claim for the private early years day nursery sector;

3) Work through UNISON’s structures and Labour link to seek to lobby relevant politicians in relation to the inadequacy of the Early Years Funding Formula;

4) Work through UNISON’s structures to explore the possibility of jointly campaigning on the issue of Early Years funding with other relevant trade unions and where appropriate other established organisations which campaign on this issue of Early Years Funding.

This conference also calls on the Service Group Executive to:

a) Campaign for substantial emergency additional funding to support the early years sector, working with the devolved nations

b) Continue to raise support for the campaign amongst the public by putting across the damaging impact of underfunded childcare on caregivers and wider society;

c) Campaign for the development of a long-term strategy to improve the pay and conditions of early years staff, including within the private sector

d) Support branches and regions to develop a recruitment and organising strategy for early years staff with an emphasis on pay and conditions.

e) Campaign for a £15 an hour minimum wage for the early years and childcare workforce;

f) Work with the Living Wage Foundation and living wage accredited councils to discuss how funded early years places in the private and voluntary sectors can move towards paying the Foundation Living Wage;

g) To work with branches and regions to recruit and retain members and organise activists in the private and voluntary sectors;

h) Work with politicians at all levels, including councillors, metro mayors, MPs, AMs, MSPs on this issue;

i) Work with Labour Link to campaign for Labour Party policy on early years to be based on high quality services, better funding, insourcing, improved pay and conditions, career progression and the principle of universality.