Keynsham parents step up childcare campaign

PARENTS in Keynsham are stepping up their campaign for better childcare provision in the town.

About 140 of them signed a letter to local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg asking him to help solve the shortage of nursery places.

Now the mother-of-three who drew up the letter is due to meet Sir Jacob along with some other parents at his constituency surgery in Keynsham on July 7.

Helen Philpott – pictured here with her family – has previously accused the Tory MP, as well as Bath and North East Somerset Council, of failing to be proactive in tackling the crisis.

In a recent letter to Heather, Sir Jacob suggested that his ability to intervene was limited.

He wrote: “Unfortunately, childcare shortages is a national problem, with the Government and local authorities seeking to work together to encourage people to seek employment within the childcare sector to address a staffing shortage which is currently affecting provision.

“I note that you remain dissatisfied with the responses that I have received to representations that I have made on your behalf to Bath and North East Somerset Council and have asked what measures I will be taking to address the situation in Keynsham.

“As you may be aware, the role of an MP is to hold public bodies to account on behalf of their constituents, and this is what I seek to do as far as I am able.

“The response from the council, to the representations that I made on your behalf, set out the steps that they are taking locally and the steps that the Government are taking nationally, but ultimately childcare providers are private bodies. They are regulated but cannot be forced to operate.

“I have made representations on your behalf to the Department for Education.”

But Helen told the Voice she felt the solution should not be left solely to commercial providers.

She said: “Childcare should be a statutory obligation that is included in infrastructure and considered, for example, when new housing developments are under way or there are bulges in the birth rate.

“At the moment it seems to be far too easy for all parties involved to shirk the responsibility for provision.

“I have been told countless times that this is a national problem and the answers I have been provided with are always woolly and lacking in any concrete detail about what is being done, either at a local or national level.”

She said she had contacted a number of local councillors who, although sympathetic, explained there was little they could do at their level, and passed the matter on to others.

“It is a very frustrating situation to be involved with. I thought there would have been more investment in this area post-Covid, when it seemed like childcare and other caring roles were finally being more recognised.

“Besides this, the cohort of children starting school in September 2024 are those who were born during the pandemic and experienced their first years of life shadowed by this, so it baffles me that they are not being prioritised now.”

Helen said she was aware of some local improvements to the childcare offer, such as the 3-2-4 playgroup at Chandag School in Keynsham, and a nursery and pre-school that is due to open at Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park in September.

“However, neither of these cater for children under two, and the 3-2-4 playgroup is term-time only, which is unfortunately not very useful for most working parents.”

B&NES Council has previously said it has taken steps to support local childcare providers, but legislation demanded that “the market” must be able to find a solution first and that “a council can only be a provider as a last resort.”