‘Work together to solve Keynsham childcare crisis’

A KEYNSHAM mum says that those with the power to solve the town’s childcare shortage should work together more productively to do so.

Rhiannon Woods was one of three mums who met local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to ask what he could do to alleviate a crisis that is causing anxiety for families and stopping mums from going back to work.

Sir Jacob has been making representations on local mums’ behalf to Bath and North East Somerset Council, which is responsible for ensuring there is enough early-years childcare provision in the area.

B&NES Council has, in turn, been updating Sir Jacob on its efforts to support potential providers in creating more nursery places.

The Tory MP has suggested that his ability to intervene is limited, while B&NES has pointed out that central government policy dictates that nursery places should only be provided by commercial operators.

Meanwhile, Keynsham has an increasing number of young children needing childcare, thanks to a rising birth-rate and the lost of two nurseries in recent years.

Rhiannon says she is frustrated by what she sees as a lack of co-operation between Sir Jacob and B&NES Council.

She told the Voice: “I can’t understand why they cannot work together for a common cause.

“There needs to be a purposeful working relationship between Jacob and his team, and B&NES, to find a solution to the crisis, rather than leaving it to desperate parents who are so limited by the options available to them.”

Rhiannon also questioned Ofsted’s policy of immediately closing nurseries when safeguarding concerns are raised – something that does not happen with schools.

“Given that Ofsted is a government organisation, Jacob has the ability to influence policy here. We need to ensure that there are contingency plans in place to oversee the running of these provisions rather than result in an immediate closure.

“If a school is placed into special measures, there are support plans which ensure close monitoring to ensure it makes rapid improvements. Why was this not the case with these nurseries?

“I fully understand that safeguarding is the most important factor in running any childcare provision, but an immediate closure without a viable alternative for all affected families is quite frankly becoming untenable.”

Rhiannon – along with fellow mums Helen Philpott and Carla Brain – told Sir Jacob that some people have tried to be part of the solution by setting up nurseries and childminding services themselves but face too many barriers to make it worth pursuing.

They also told him of the strain the crisis is putting on the mental health of mothers during their maternity leave.

Rhiannon said: “Many are spending so much time trying to find childcare solutions that they’re often unable to enjoy the incredibly important time raising their little ones in the early months.”

She said the statutory maternity pay of nine months is too short, forcing mums to go back to work before they feel comfortable to do so.

“I am one of these mothers, having had to return to work at eight months and handing the baton of responsibility to other care-givers.

“I have also been exclusively breastfeeding my son, and at eight months he was not yet able to be sustained on the small meals he’s having twice a day. I have been put in a situation where, against my intentions, I’ve had to introduce formula-feeding before I wanted to.”

Rhiannon added that families who have to pay someone else to care for their children also miss vital developmental milestones.

“The double-edged sword is that many are unable to find any provision anyway in Keynsham, therefore in some cases are unable to return to work, and not being paid in the meantime.

“We are facing a situation where UK parents are facing among the highest costs in the world, but even for families now on middle incomes, it is not worth taking on the challenge of returning to work.”

She added: “We discussed the Conservatives’ promise to expand free childcare provision. However, the delay in the introduction of this until 2024-2025, and then only for two-year-olds in England, means we would not benefit anyway.

“I feel I am being put in a position where I can neither excel at being a mum, nor a professional, given that the support just is not there.”

Rhiannon described Sir Jacob’s response as “empathetic but unspecific”.

She added: “I feel Jacob’s responses lacked a solution-focused approach to the situation.”

Rhiannon is a science teacher in a secondary school. She originally registered her son Matt for a nursery place in August 2022 while still pregnant. She has been offered a place for three days a week, but that won’t start until September next year at the earliest.

Rhiannon’s parents and in-laws have offered to help a few days a week in the meantime, but the situation has forced her to go part-time from this month.

She and her husband John, an accountant, did consider setting up their own nursery but Rhiannon said she lacked the required experience in early-years education to become a nursery manager herself.

Sir Jacob has previously stated: “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.

“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.”

Pictured, Rhiannon Woods and her husband John with their son Matt