65.1 Sarah Hylton, Early Years Service Manager, presented the report which detailed the options for the use of the carried forward Early Years underspend, to support sufficiency following the increased risks on the Early Years provider market due to the impact of Covid-19.
65.2 The Early Years Service Manager explained that the fragility of the Early Years infrastructure had always presented a challenge to the sufficiency and quality of early education and childcare both locally and nationally, and that had now been further impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
65.3 It was reported that 260 responses had been received to a survey, circulated to all 702 Early Years providers, covering a number of areas to help gain an understanding of the impact of the pandemic. The information was collated to identify Early Years provision that reported cash flow and income/expenditure deficit as their primary concern. A through analysis was undertaken, together with further consultation with some providers to identify those settings at the highest risk of closure due to financial losses. In total, 36 settings had been identified as being at risk of closure with the potential loss of over 800 childcare places, -12 of those settings would potentially cause significant sufficiency challenges if childcare places could not be maintained through some means.
65.4 The Early Years Service manager explained that the local authority had considered how best to support those settings most at risk of closure, being mindful that if one of those settings was to close then it would have a knock-on effect across the whole sector – those settings that were at low risk of closure, could become high risk. She outlined to the Forum the options for the use of the carried forward Early Years underspend to support sufficiency.
65.5 The Forum recognised the importance of children having the best possible start in life, and that being able to access good quality, local early years provision was critical, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and therefore maintaining a good cross section of Early Years provision in the county was crucial.
65.6 Amanda Horniman, Early Years representative, made reference to the Covid-19 emergency fund for schools, and pointed out that there was no similar funding available for Early Years providers to claim for loss of income and additional costs incurred due to Covid-19. She emphasised that for some Early Years providers with a high percentage of private fee paying children, the wider impact of the pandemic on employment patterns meant that parents were choosing to keep their children at home, meaning that settings were experiencing financial losses and struggling to stay open.
65.7 Having considered the options, Forum members were in support of the carried forward Early Years underspend being used to support sufficiency following the increased risks on the Early Years provider market due to the impact of Covid-19. It was acknowledged however that further analysis of the business models and budgets, of each individual setting in financial difficulty, was needed to ensure that the settings most in need of help received it. Further analysis was also needed to ensure that the impact of Covid-19 was the primary reason for financial concerns and that the business would otherwise be viable and likely to be sustainable in the future if supported in the short term. The Early Years Service manager confirmed that additional business support would be commissioned to work with the Early Years providers to undertake that further analysis. She confirmed that this would be undertaken in conjunction with a wider review of childcare sufficiency in the county.
65.8 The Forum agreed that the Early Years carry forward balance of £1.169 million be used as follows:
Ø Allocate £400,000 to support sufficiency of childcare provision in areas where settings at risk of closure impact on childcare sufficiency.
Ø Retain £200,000 of the underspend to provide contingency should any unforeseen costs arise.
Ø Allocate £560,000 to the remaining providers based on the full academic year hours and adjust for deprivation factors (as last year).