Lancashire nursery school consultation approved - but what future for those in financial trouble?

Lancashire County Council has agreed to launch a formal consultation into the future of several of its nursery schools – but has not yet named them.

It emerged last week that four of the nurseries had been deemed “financially unviable” – and cabinet members have now approved the next step in deciding their fate.

Lancashire's local authority-run nursery schools have had their financial situations categorised

Lancashire's local authority-run nursery schools have had their financial situations categorised

READ MORE >>> Where are Lancashire's council-run nursery schools?
But the authority’s cabinet member for schools, Phillippa Williamson, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that education bosses would now be contacting all 24 council-run pre-schools and looking at “the most up-to-date financial information available” about them.

“We’ll be working with them and the latest data that we have, [including] pupil numbers, to work out what the future should be for each of those schools. We will be getting in touch with them very soon, following our decision today and collaborating with them on planning the financial way forward,” County Cllr Williamson said.

Pressed on when the schools in the most serious financial position will be made public, she added: “We want to talk to the schools first.”

When the proposed consultation emerged last week, County Cllr Williamson said that she hoped all the nurseries could have a future – but acknowledged that those struggling the most would require “very creative” action.

A further ten nurseries have been categorised as “financially vulnerable” and the remaining ten “financially stable”.

However, the entire sector will become unviable if a government grant which covers its additional costs is withdrawn next year. The Department for Education is currently committed to the fund only until spring 2021.

At the cabinet meeting, the Labour opposition group’s deputy leader John Fillis said it was “really serious [for the government] to keep people hanging on and not to make any statements or clear indication of what’s going to happen”.

He pledged to support the county council in the work it was doing and urged that the grant be maintained.

The meeting also heard that both council-run and private nurseries and childminders in Lancashire continue to receive the lowest hourly rate from the government to cover the costs of its free childcare commitments for two, three and four-year-olds – although there has been a one-off uplift this year.

Lancashire will be handed £4.38 per hour for every three and four-year-old in 2020/21 – whilst the best-funded local authorities will get £8.51.