At the timing of writing this article, Local Authority early years funding rates for 2018/19 had just been announced – and the figures were as disappointing as expected.
Out of around 150 councils, more than 100 will see no change in government funding levels when the new financial year starts in April. Of the rest – i.e. those Local Authorities still in the process of fully transitioning to the early years national funding formula (EYNFF) – 21 will see a decrease in funding.
Clearly this is not sustainable – and worse still, the government knows this. Alongside the publication of the not-so-new funding rates was a very low-key announcement of a new £8.65 million ‘Delivery Support Fund’, designed to help Local Authorities to deliver sufficient 30-hour places during the summer term, when demand will be highest.
At a maximum of £70,000 per council, it is unlikely that this fund is going to go very far, but what it does show is that the government is concerned about what it describes as the ‘variety of challenges’ the sector will face as the demand for 30-hour places increases, and that it knows that, currently, funding levels alone are not enough.
But, of course, what the sector needs is not small pots of money here and there. We need a sustainable approach to funding that ensures that the rates providers receive not only cover the cost of delivering places today, but also in the future, when those costs inevitably increase.
So the question is: ‘How do we achieve this, given the government has steadfastly refused to admit that the sector is underfunded?.
One critical point that we as a sector need to make loudly and clearly is that this problem is not an isolated or small-scale problem. Of course, we know that not all providers, and not all areas, are unhappy with their rates, with some benefiting from an increase in funding as a result of the EYNFF.
But there remain many, many providers across the country that continue to struggle financially as a result of underfunding, and it is vital that we make it clear just how widespread a problem this is.
That is why we, at the Alliance, are continuing to encourage providers to sign up to our Fair Future Funding campaign – to show government that those voicing concerns about funding are not just ‘outliers’, as suggested by government, but in fact make up a sizable proportion of the sector. If you have not signed up already, make sure you do at www.pre-school.org.uk/fffsupporter. But providers cannot make this argument this alone. If there is one lesson we should take from the success of the campaign against ratio changes a few years ago, it is that as strong as a united sector voice is, it is all the stronger when we have parents on our side.
We extended the Fair Future Funding campaign to parents for just that reason, and it is incredibly positive to receive messages from parents on a daily basis voicing support for their provider, and the sector as a whole. If your parents have not joined the campaign yet, they can do so at our dedicated parent page: www.pre-school.org.uk/fffparents.
And, of course, when it comes to changing government policy, having a voice in Parliament is absolutely vital. The Alliance has attended a number of debates, events and meetings in Westminster on the topic of funding recently, including as part of the new Childcare and Early Education All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which we are a founding sponsor.
But we know that to get ministers and policymakers to act on this issue, we need to raise awareness among local MPs. As such, as part of our campaign, we are encouraging and supporting providers to write to and arrange meetings with their MPs, and have produced a free template letter that you can use as a base, which you can download at www.pre-school.org.uk/fairfuturefunding.
The battle for fairer funding has been, and remains, a long one, but it is one that the Alliance is committed to fighting – and we hope that you will continue to fight with us. eye