NURSERIES in our region have struggled to access vital government support, leaving them extremely vulnerable during the lockdown.
Many childcare providers are experiencing serious financial problems after seeing their income slump as the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed.
This struggle is compounded by the fact that many of them are either not eligible for the government's grant schemes or are waiting for money to come through.
Wirral Council has now announced a 'lifeline' fund of £350,000 to keep childcare providers going.
The scheme is thought to be one of the first of its kind in the country.
A recently published council document reveals the scale of the issue facing some child care providers in the borough.
It reads: "Following consultation with the sector there is a real risk that providers would have to close as a result of financial difficulty following reduced income."
The new £350,000 fund will be targeted at providers who have remained open through the crisis but are not eligible for government support such as business rate relief, the job retention scheme, the small business grant scheme, or the business interruption loan scheme.
All eligible providers can apply for up to £10,000 of grant funding.
The council's warning that providers faced going under during the pandemic was mirrored by Lorraine Krimou, owner of Daisy Day Nursery in Wallasey.
She said: "This crisis has unfortunately resulted in many nursery owners finding themselves to be ineligible for much or all of the support packages offered by government.
"This has been my own experience and I know many other nursery owners share this too."
Ms Krimou spoke of the "hardship" she has suffered through the pandemic.
She added: “I’m grateful to Councillor [Ian] Lewis [who represents Wallasey] and the council officers for listening and acting on real fears and concerns and securing this money for us to ease the financial hardship we are all experiencing.
“Wirral has delivered at a local level what the sector’s national organisations to date have not been able to achieve.”
Cllr Lewis, leader of the Conservative group in Wirral Council, said: “Many of Wirral’s nurseries are doing a vital role in supporting the children of key workers and we would be lost without them.
“It’s really important that our nurseries survive this pandemic for when the rest of the borough gets back to work.
“This extra £350,000 has been set up to help do that and I’d like to thank those nursery providers who have contacted me and the officers of the council who listened to their concerns and acted so quickly.”
Wirral Council has received additional money from the government to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the sums given out to Merseyside’s local authorities have been heavily criticised by politicians in the region.
In the first wave of funding, Wirral was given £11.8m, but this was cut to £8.9m in the second wave.
The council said it faces additional financial pressures of £35m due to the crisis, with Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley warning it could be as high as £45m.
Wirral Council has emailed nursery providers in the borough to make them aware of the support that is available.
Paul Boyce, director for children’s services, said: “These provisions play a crucial role in supporting parents to be able to return to work as the lockdown situation is eased and means that we can continue to support our key workers to carry out essential services.
“With the sector facing unprecedented challenges, we hope this new grant scheme will act as a lifeline for many childcare providers, including nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.
“Most importantly, keeping these settings running means that we’re able to ensure that vulnerable children in the borough are safe.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education, said nurseries are “playing a vital role in the response to coronavirus”.
They said: “We have provided continuity in funding for the free childcare entitlements, and the government has put in place a significant package of financial support for providers – this includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which providers can access for employees whose salary is not covered by public funding.
“This principle applies universally across all sectors.”
Private childcare providers will also be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year.
That means non-local authority providers of childcare will pay no business rates in 2020-21.