Child safety concerns over Government’s nurseries plan as Leeds councillors warn ‘this is not the answer’

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Senior Leeds councillors have savaged a government plan to relax the number of toddlers that can be looked after by nurseries and childminders.

Ministers have proposed lifting the maximum ratio of two-year-olds to responsible adults to 1:5, up from its current ratio of 1:4.

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It would mean, for example, that a nursery with three qualified childminders on duty could look after 15 children, as opposed to the current limit of 12.

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Leeds City Council leader James Lewis was one of the two signatories on the letter.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonLeeds City Council leader James Lewis was one of the two signatories on the letter.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Leeds City Council leader James Lewis was one of the two signatories on the letter. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The Government, which is currently consulting over the idea, claims the move would reduce childcare costs for parents, create more spaces for kids and give nurseries greater flexibility.

But charities and parent groups have criticised the plan, claiming it will reduce the quality of care children will receive.

And in a joint letter to the then children and families minister Will Quince on Tuesday, Leeds City Council leader James Lewis and Coun Fiona Venner, portfolio holder for children and young people, echoed those concerns.

Mr Quince resigned from the Government on Wednesday morning, however, in protest at Boris Johnson’s leadership.

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Councillors Lewis and Venner wrote: “There have been widespread concerns, raised by both parents and providers that children’s safety will be compromised if fewer adults care for more children.

“Settings in Leeds are concerned that this proposal is already affecting their staff and prompting them to leave the sector. As you will be aware, staffing is a huge pressure across the sector nationally.

“Settings are advising that they’re struggling to recruit the trained staff they need, and staff turnover is high.”

The council itself runs 29 Little Owls nurseries across Leeds, with private sector providers offering the majority of childcare places across the city.

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Catering for children aged from three months to five years, the local authority says the nurseries aim to offer quality, affordable childcare and early education in “safe and inspiring” environment.

On the proposed increase in the staffing ratio, councillors Lewis and Venner went on to say: “This is clearly not the right answer for parents, children or staff.

“The safeguarding of children must be paramount and, after the huge disruption of the pandemic, we urge you to dismiss this policy, and prioritise policies that invest in our early years sector and the future of our children and young people.”

The original plan had been announced on Monday by the then education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

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But Mr Zahawi himself was then promoted to the role of Chancellor on Tuesday night, following the resignation of Rishi Sunak.

Mr Zahawi had said: “Childcare is an integral part of our economy, and these reforms prove again that this Government is on the side of working families.

“I’m hugely grateful to the thousands of dedicated early years professionals who provide daily care and education to our youngest children, which is why I am determined to support them by giving them greater flexibility in how they run their services.

“This in turn will support thousands of families across the country, helping to develop children’s skills while also supporting parents into work.”