Government risks ‘social vandalism of worst kind’ if maintained nurseries close

Ministers risk causing “social vandalism of the worst kind” if maintained nurseries close due to funding uncertainty, MPs have heard.

Former shadow education secretary Lucy Powell warned the Government must come forward with guarantees over funding to help the schools providing early years education for disadvantaged children.

Speaking in the Commons, the Labour MP (pictured) said: “We have heard time and again that ministers are committed to keeping these maintained nursery schools open but they cannot wait for decisions that now look like they’re not going to be made until the autumn of this year.

“They need the certainty in this financial year, and in the grand scheme of things £60 million a year for what these nursery schools offer is a very small amount of money.

“I know the minister would agree with me that I think this would be social vandalism of the worst kind to let these nursery schools go by default when we don’t really want them to go, but we can’t actually find the pot of money to keep them open.”

Ms Powell said Education minister Nadhim Zahawi has her full support in making the case to the Treasury.

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers said the Government has to decide what to prioritise when it comes to spending taxpayers’ cash but said: “The funding situation for the maintained sector is becoming very grave and we absolutely have to have a solution which saves these schools.”

She added local authorities were unable to “fill the current gap” due to funding pressures.

Labour MP Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington) said nurseries cannot wait for the comprehensive spending review for more funding.

He said: “There have been some closures already, delay risks many more, and a failure to respond properly and on an adequate scale could see a tidal wave of closures across the country and that would be utterly tragic.

“The problem is not the minister sitting here today, the problem lies in Downing Street and Downing Street has got to hear this message loud and clear.

“These are a great part of our national heritage… These are an essential part of tackling poverty and deprivation and ensuring social mobility.

“A decision has to be made and that decision has to be made quickly otherwise I fear for the future of the jewels in the crown of early year provision.”

Replying for the Government, Mr Zahawi said no maintained school knows its funding after March 2020 and noted this is a “difficult place to be”.

He added: “The message I give the House, and take from the House, is that we want to find a long term funding solution for maintained nursery schools.

“In doing so we will need to make sure that high quality special needs services many of them provide in some of our poorest communities continue to be safeguarded for the benefit of the children in their care.”

The minister added: “We also need to ensure the way we spend money across the childcare sector as a whole is structured to give all children the best possible start. And that ultimately is our shared ambition.”

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