Fifth of Shropshire nurseries close over funding crisis
More than one in five nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Shropshire have closed since 2015, according to data published by Ofsted.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance has called for "urgent action" to address a funding crisis it says has left more than 40 per cent of providers in England contemplating closure next year.
Any provider who cares for early years children - from birth up until the August following their fifth birthday - must be registered with Ofsted.
All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week during term time.
But since September 2017, parents can claim an additional 15 hours if both they and their partner earn less than £100,000 a year but more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the minimum wage.
In Shropshire, there were 290 such providers on the register at the end of March 2018, 76 fewer than in March 2015.
This is one of the biggest drops in providers seen by any local authority in England.
Almost three quarters of local authorities in England lost early years providers in the first seven months after the 30 hours scheme was introduced, while 98 per cent have seen a drop since 2015.
In Shropshire, there were eight fewer providers at the end of March 2018 than there were before the policy changed in September.
Research undertaken by the organisation has found that more than four in ten providers are now charging parents for extras such as lunches or nappies to make up the shortfall in funding.
Since 2015, the number of available places in England has not been reducing at the same rate as providers, and in the most recent 12 month period, they increased by 3,800, despite a loss of more than 1,700 providers.
In Shropshire, the number of places available at the end of March had fallen by just 3 per cent from the previous year, while the number of providers fell by 5 per cent.
In Telford & Wrekin more than ten nurseries and other early years childcare providers have closed since 2015. There were 179 such providers on the register at the end of March 2018, 11 fewer than in March 2015 and there were two fewer providers than there were before the policy changed in September.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said the new scheme had "further exasperated" funding problems already experienced by providers under the 15 hours scheme.
He added: "There has never been any such thing as free childcare. It’s subsidised childcare.
"Early Years funding is frozen until 2020, and while our costs go up, we’re just told to make it work."
According to Mr Leitch, providers are being forced to take on more children to cope with the funding pressures.
"Smaller nurseries, for example in rural areas where they operate out of a village hall, are having to close because they just don’t get the economies of scale that the larger ones do," he added.