Greens have criticised a last-minute change in funding rules which could cost nurseries in Brighton and Hove millions of pounds.
The funding rules change came after Brighton and Hove City Council said that it would close its nurseries to protect staff and children from the coronavirus as local infection rates soared.
This week, however, a census is due to take place, with nursery bosses asked to count the number of children in attendance. The numbers will affect the amount of money going towards paying for free places in the future.
The closure decision has angered some of those running nurseries in Brighton and Hove who have take every step required of them to ensure that children and staff are safe.
The Greens said: “Brighton and Hove City Council will experience a further gap in funding as a result of the earlier committee decision to move council-run nurseries to close to all but vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
“Greens say the decision to make funding decisions based on attendance in the midst of the pandemic is grossly unfair and we will be writing to the Department for Education to challenge the decision.
“Councils in areas where nurseries are open to all have also begun to demand a change in position from government ministers as it is likely that new rules mean both private and council-run nursery providers will have limited attendance of both staff and children and will experience a funding shortfall.”
The late change to the funding rules was published last week, with the Greens adding: “This also comes in the same week councillors were told that the amount of funding given to early years providers in Brighton and Hove remains lower than the national average.”
The Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas said: “It beggars belief that, in the middle of a pandemic crisis, the government would deliberately change its guidance in such a way as to increase the risk of infection for children and staff.
“Ministers are wilfully putting councils in an impossible situation. If nursery providers remain closed, collectively they stand to lose millions of pounds. If they’re forced to open, they put staff and children at risk.
“To hold nursery providers and young children to ransom in this way is despicable and – following the free school meals debacle – marks a new low in the government’s cruel and callous treatment of our young people.”
Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said: “In the middle of a pandemic, where the number of cases are higher than ever – the choice from government is that unless we reopen our council-run nurseries, we will lose out.
“Asking councils to count the attendance and demand that we progress with this census during a national lockdown and some of the worst rates of this virus we have ever seen locally is grossly unfair.
“Providers are being forced by government to make decisions based on finances – not on the health and wellbeing of our community.
“We will continue to challenge this decision and remain clear – that the health of our community is the priority of this council.”
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