Nursery closures in Lancashire due to Covid-19 pandemic are a 'devastating blow' to the childcare sector.

Childcare industry is facing a crises in Lancashire
Childcare industry is facing a crises in Lancashire

Nursery bosses have been thrown into crises in the wake of partial closures enforced by the government in their latest response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement, schools and nurseries are expected to close their doors from Friday. There has been no indication as to how long the emergency measures are expected to last.

The news is a 'devastating blow' to the private childcare sector, especially in Lancashire where several nurseries have been forced into closure in the last 12 months. It is understood the county has already been subject to more losses in the sector than anywhere else in the UK.

Sarah Carr, chairman of the National Day Nursery Association, and director of Ashbridge Independent School and Nursery in South Ribble, said childcare providers were already facing “crisis time.”

She said the uncertainty surrounding how long closures are expected to last and the lack of clarity in the government definitions of 'key workers', who will be able to continue sending their children to their regular childcare, meant Lancashire's childcare sector was 'very vulnerable.'

She said: "It's a devastating blow for the sector. There was no readiness for this - we didn't expect it. It didn't happen in Scotland, it has come on very quickly.

"It is a real problem facing our nurseries, with no idea of how long business owners will be in this situation and because of the nature of this announcement, there is no cover for this loss.

"Long term sustainability is the major concern here. We are desperately trying to prioritise and preserve staff positions. That is for most 60 per cent of the income spend.

"There is no slack left here in already challenging times. But what this country needs going forward is a workforce and for that to happen you need a childcare sector that can survive.

The chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has demanded the Government support the nursery sector in the same way other businesses are being supported.

It came after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced schools and early years providers across England would close, with similar measures also announced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Owner of Lancashire and Blackpool childcare group Learning Curve Helen Turpie said the team across their five nurseries who look after 300 children were 'doing everything they could' to support the community through the difficult period.

Helen and Simon Turpie operate Shepherd Lodge and Clifton Lodge in St Annes, Lytham Lodge in Lytham and Butterfly and Bluebell Lodges in Blackpool. They have a workforce of 130.

She said: "We are at this very moment waiting on government support and more advice. To have the clarity of the government offering assistance or backing us in battling the insurance companies would make a huge difference. As well as wages, there are the mortgages, rents and bills to pay.

"Here we have a lot of people doing everything they can to support our families and allow those key workers to keep going - we have a lot of parents working in the emergency services.

"It's day by day at the minute, currently we think we will be operating two of our nurseries one in Blackpool and in Lytham. Blackpool Council have called asking for our assistance in placing some children.

"We want to support the country in stopping this virus and taking the advice to make the necessary closures. We've been looking after families for years and it's trying to do our bit for those too. Some have lost their jobs so have had to pull children out, others struggling to continue with fees. There are huge worries.

"We want to be a community hub for Lancashire and Blackpool and for the children to be supported. We are lucky to have an excellent workforce - the atmosphere in the nurseries has been lovely as the team pull together. Everyone is in the same boat.

"We have staff members working on activity packages now for families at home -we're thinking of videos to make for our Facebook page and little tasks or singing time.

"The industry has been left out but this country can't run without childcare services - people will need us."

Ms Carr added the pressures of parents minding their children, while expected to work from home was a huge concern for large numbers with the burden of financial constraints too.

"We have received hundreds of emails from parents already - there is a lot of nervousness.

"How broad is the term 'key worker' we've no real idea what that is? Here in Lancashire we have a lot of farmers, there are prison officers, to delivery drivers. We're expecting more guidance today.

"But then there are deep worries for our own staff - some owners are in a very difficult position, their workers have families and mortgages. There are so many needs of so many people to consider. The instability is very unsettling and not least for the children.

"In their nursery youngsters have a stable, welcoming and safe environment, it also provides peace of mind. It is crucial with this government intervention we are given some picture of what the future might look like. We need a childcare sector that can survive."

The Prime Minister in his daily briefing urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19.

Nurseries and private schools across the UK are also being asked to close too, with financial support being given where it is needed.

At present those understood to be key workers are those in the NHS, police officers, supermarket delivery drivers and those who look after the vulnerable and elderly.

A full list has not yet been revealed by the Government but it is likely it could be expanded to include other professions such as social workers, firefighters and more.