Parents demand action on childcare shortage

PARENTS in Keynsham are calling for action to remedy the “appalling lack of childcare” in the town.

The campaign is being led by mother-of-three Helen Philpott, who has asked local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to help.
Helen, pictured, said she contacted several local nurseries recently and was told the earliest availability for places in Keynsham was the end of 2024.

She believes the government and local authorities should do more to help nurseries provide extra places, or provide those places themselves.

She said: “The problem is being passed around and nobody is taking responsibility.”

When Helen previously wrote to Mr Rees-Mogg, he forwarded a reply sent to him by Bath and North East Somerset Council, which said it was trying to help childcare providers recruit more staff, but that unless people wanted to work in the sector, they could not increase places.

Mr Rees-Mogg told Helen: “I realise that this may not be the response that you were hoping for, but I hope it is helpful in clarifying the steps that are being taken to address shortages in the childcare sector.”

But in her latest letter to Mr Rees-Mogg, signed by about 140 parents, Helen writes: “You did not outline what measures you, as my local MP, will be taking to address the situation in Keynsham. At present it feels like the approach to this from both the council and your team is lethargic and lacking in momentum and proactiveness.”
Helen has three children, the eldest of whom is at school. Her middle child, aged two, attends a nursery three miles away, and her youngest child is five months.

“We are a one-car family and both parents work full time, although I am currently on maternity leave. The daily round trip for our middle child’s care is expensive, time-consuming and impacts on our working hours.
“In less than two years and against the backdrop of Covid, our two-year-old has attended four different childcare settings.

“This is because two Keynsham-based nurseries that he attended (Broadland Bears and then Leaping Lambs) closed at no notice.

“The numerous childcare changes he has experienced in his short life have had a significant impact on his wellbeing and confidence.

“It surprises me that the cohort of children who have only experienced life with the shadow of Covid and all of its impacts are not being prioritised through the provision of sufficient childcare.

“Our third child was born in December 2022. As soon as he was born, I contacted local nurseries in an attempt to reserve a place for him, but none were able to accommodate him in time for my return to work in August this year.

“We are lucky to have found a childminder in Keynsham, but this means yet another daily drop-off/pick-up, extending the already lengthy round trip. We have a car and the financial resources to absorb this, but there are many other families for whom this would not be possible.

“The wider impacts of this are clearly potentially very far-reaching: poorer local economy, not just limited to Keynsham but extending to BANES and the South West; local families with reduced incomes; fewer parents/carers (particularly mothers) being able to return to work/work the hours they would like to; a widening gender pay gap; local children missing out on valuable early-years education; poor transitions from nurseries to local schools due to children having to travel out of area for childcare provision.”

Helen also pointed out that a significant number of new homes had been built in Keynsham in recent years, with more planned.

“The demand for childcare is only going to increase in the future, and the stark difference between demand and availability will grow further.”

Helen added in her letter to Mr Rees-Mogg: “The recent Budget announcements on childcare are positive but will not have an impact for years, and this situation needs to be addressed now. We ask you again, as our MP, what are you personally doing to improve this in a timely manner, so that those of us who are affected see an impact not in years, but a short number of weeks or months?”

In its response to Mr Rees-Mogg, B&NES Council said: “No providers have come forward to take over the space vacated by Leaping Lambs in Keynsham and in two other locations in Bath and Swineford. One location has been registered again with Ofsted, the Willsbridge nursery premises.”

A council spokesperson told the Voice: “Nationally the early years education and childcare sector is experiencing a challenge to recruit and retain staff. The council is working with local providers, colleges and employment agencies to encourage people to join the sector for the first time or return to the profession.

“In addition we are working with prospective childminders to help them use the new grants announced by the Government in March 2023. We are also aware that Futura Learning Partnership recently held a consultation about expanding provision in Keynsham.

“Legislation regarding who should be a provider states that the market must be able to find a solution first, whether that is private, voluntary, independent, childminding or school-run provision.

“A council can only be a provider as a last resort, subject to sufficient demand, economic viability and without unfair subsidy so it is equitable with the rest of the providers operating within the existing market.”

The Voice also asked Mr Rees-Mogg for comment but has not to date received a reply.