Last week I sat in the public gallery at Suffolk County Council, together with local childcare providers and parents, whilst the county council debated a motion on the problems with the 30 hours childcare policy locally. The point of the motion was to get the Tory council to be more supportive to providers, to apologise for operational problems (like late payment) that have added to the difficulties faced by providers, and to be transparent about how much early years funding is being retained by the council and what it is used for.
Suffolk has particular problems with the 30 hours policy, partly because our early years funding has been cut by central government, and partly due to poor and opaque implementation of the policy compounded by operational problems.
So did our Tory councillors take the opportunity to help our providers? (as let’s face it, some will be forced to close due to this policy). No chance. What we got instead was a display of cheap political point scoring by the Tories, rudeness from the council leader, and no attempt at resolution of the problems. The best to be had was confirmation that the council are lobbying central government about the funding cut. (Whilst Suffolk Tory MPs are busy wagging their fingers at Suffolk for not passing more of the funding to providers, and things just go round in circles.) Members of the public aren’t allowed to speak at council meetings, and how the childcare providers kept their cool I don’t know, especially when, as people whose businesses are threatened by this underfunded policy, they were treated to a lecture by one councillor on how the council must operate sound business practices.
The council leader, blatantly putting dogma before service provision yesterday poured oil on troubled waters by declaring on the radio that some providers will flourish and some will struggle as a consequence of the policy. Not the strategic response from a major provider of public services one might hope for for our children, their parents or the childcare providers.
Roll forward to today and I’m now on the way to the #School Cuts mass lobby of parliament. In one of life’s little ironies (if there is such a thing as a little irony with a potentially life-long consequence), the Suffolk funding rate for early years has gone down, at the same time that the government has proposed a welcome, though insufficient, rise in the funding rate for schools. To give an example of how inadequate the proposals for school funding are, my children’s school faces a loss of over £140,000 by the end of the parliament. And that’s better than most.
My MP has declined to meet me today, though hundreds of other MPs are meeting concerned parents, students and teachers from across the country. The story in schools and childcare settings across the country is that at the moment, education from early years to sixth form is undervalued and underfunded. The solutions aren’t hard. Let’s hope someone in power today is actually listening. Preferably the Chancellor.
Emma Bishton (Parliamentary Candidate for South Suffolk in 2017 General Election