Childcare closures likely to hit rural areas worst

Councils are warning that remoter rural areas could be impacted the most by childcare closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A study carried out by the County Councils Network (CCN) of its member councils found that every single respondent felt up to 10 per cent of their childcare providers could close this winter at the very least, rising to one in four in some areas. This is even without a second coronavirus wave.

These more remote areas already have less childcare choices meaning just a few closures could result in people having to travel much further or in some cases, not be able to access any childcare at all.

A new report from the CCN found that councils believe the government’s interventions have helped stave off closures so far in 2020, but that providers have only ‘weathered the storm’ and will face financial difficulty without further support into the winter.

In total, 80 per cent of respondents believe that up to one in ten local providers are at risk, whilst the remaining 20 per cent are worried that figure could be as high as one in four in their areas due to increased costs of opening safely, and declining demand during the looming recession.

The CCN says that disruption to the market of this scale would leave many councils unable to fulfil their statutory duty to provide ‘sufficient’ childcare for residents, especially in more remote locations.

To address this, councils are calling on the government to commit to ensuring financial support for the childcare sector until the end of the pandemic, with councils given the ability to direct funds to providers in areas where closures could have a major impact due to the smaller number of childcare services.

Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the CCN, said: “County local authorities can be proud of their efforts in helping keep our vital childcare providers in business at the height of the pandemic, offering upfront financial support alongside guidance and publicity for them.

“The government’s financial support in this time has been invaluable, but a dead stop to it in the winter will cause huge problems for providers who have only weathered the storm of coronavirus with this assistance.

“Rural and remote areas of counties where there is already a dearth of childcare could be the most vulnerable, impacting on parents and children alike, and hampering the economic recovery efforts. This is why we will need further financial support, and the freedoms for councils to direct these funds to the areas where closures will be most catastrophic.”