Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Shortage Of Early Years Places Threatens Plans To Help 2 Year Olds Across County

Cllr Kilian Bourke
(LD, Romsey)

Figures obtained by Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats show that there is likely to be a serious shortfall of places in Early Years provision in Cambridgeshire when new funding for 2 year olds from needy families comes available next year, and Julian Huppert MP is pushing for this shortfall to be resolved.

The government has increased its investment in Early Years by offering 15 hours free provision for all 3 and 4 year olds and, from next year, 15 hours per week for 2 year olds living in families on benefits.

But there is a serious shortfall of places in some areas of the county, in particular Cambridge City, where the child population is rising rapidly, but also other areas including Wisbech, St Neots, Huntingdon, Ely, Cottenham and Bassingbourn.

The council's draft figures (attached) anticipate that shortages in early years provision across Cambridgeshire will by 2014/15 have risen to almost 2500 sessional* places, including:

  • 754 places in Cambridge
  • 328 in Wisbech
  • 209 in St Neots
  • 254 in Ely
  • 218 in Huntingdon 

'We are calling on Cabinet members and officers to  make this a high priority over the coming months', said Lib Dem Education Spokesman, Peter Downes. 'The investment in Early Years is a government initiative we strongly support and it would be a wasted opportunity if sufficient places are not available at the right time.'

MP Julian Huppert, who has been visiting local early years providers around Cambridge, said "the Lib Dems in Coalition have prioritised Early Years and deprivation with their Pupil Premium and free places for two year olds.  But it won't work if local authorities don't play their part to their full.  I hope the Conservatives will listen to my colleagues on the County Council and take action to ensure that adequate provision is made."

Lib Dem group leader Kilian Bourke said: "We are lucky in Romsey to have an excellent Early Years provider called Patacake, but its waiting list has been frozen for nearly a year now.  If local children are to receive the free care they are entitled to, which research has shown is so important to boosting their life chances, then the Conservatives need to address this shortfall as soon as possible."

He added: "This is not just a Cambridge issue and is particularly important in areas like Wisbech, where uptake of free care is very low because people are less aware that they are entitled to it.  Wisbech 2020 must include plans for addressing this shortfall."

*Note: Sessional places are the 15 hours a week to which children eligible for free Early Years places are entitled to.