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Alliance investigates local funding discrepancies

By Rachel Lawleralliance FOI request local authority early years funding

The Alliance has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to every local authority in England in response to concerns about inconsistencies in the way that early years providers are set to be funded in the next term.

Earlier this year, the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that it would be funding local authorities in England based on early years data from the January 2020 census, rather than the January 2021 count. This was designed to reflect the fact "the number of children attending childcare may not have returned to normal levels by early January".

The DfE also stated that local authorities "should continue to fund providers which are open at broadly the levels they would have expected to see in the 2020 autumn term had there been no coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak". 

The DfE suggested that local authorities might, for example, use "the number of children in places in the previous autumn" to set their funding levels for autumn 2020.

Recommendations ignored
However, the Alliance has received several reports of local authorities that are not adhering to these recommendations.

In recent weeks, numerous providers have reported being told that they will receive far less funding in the autumn term 2020 than they had been expecting, based on the DfE's guidance.

Stretched budgets
Colette Fairfax, chair at Rixton-with-Glazebrook Pre-school, said: "We have received the funding arrangements for the 2020 autumn term from our local authority, and they have informed us that they are not funding us based on our 2019 estimates as they cannot afford to, despite this being the government guidance. 

"Instead, they are offering us a 20% uplift to our 2020 estimate, which is substantially lower than the figure we had calculated based on our 2019 autumn estimates - a reduction of nearly a quarter. 

"We are a small village charity pre-school and our budget was already stretched before we heard about this reduction in funding - I'm sure that there are many others in the same situation." 

Alliance investigation
In response, the Alliance has filed an FOI request with every local authority in England asking whether or not they will be following the DfE's guidance on early years funding for the autumn term 2020.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “The Department for Education’s decision to continue funding the sector based on 2019 levels in the autumn term was a welcome step – but it’s clear that much more must be done to ensure that this support reaches the frontline. 

“The government has described the move as ‘”block-buying” childcare places for the rest of the year’ – but if councils are allowed to just disregard DfE guidance and refuse to fund providers at autumn 2019 levels, then this simply isn’t the case. 

 “We have received numerous reports of councils who are choosing not to follow the DfE’s recommendations, which is putting even more financial pressure on local providers at an already incredibly difficult time. 

“It is vital that the government places tighter requirements on local authorities on this issue, and we hope that the information that we are gaining through our FoI investigation will provide the evidence needed to ensure that this happens.” 

Find out more
Government shares early years funding plans for autumn term