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Tory childcare pledges – our verdict

As part of the extensive National Day Nurseries Association conference agenda Courteney Donaldson, Director & Head of Childcare at Christie + Co was invited to join a panel of esteemed colleagues including, Eva Lloyd, Professor of Early Childhood, Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London; Ian Murchie, Relationship Director in the Barclays Healthcare and Education team and John Woodward OBE, Managing Director of Busy Bees, the UK’s largest childcare nursery provider, to discuss ‘Prospects Post Election’

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Here Courteney highlights a selection of Government pledges, as referenced in the Conservative Party Manifesto, and summarises the prospect of such pledges on the day nursery sector, specifically in relation to Property and Business. 

Here Courteney highlights a selection of Government pledges, as referenced in the Conservative Party Manifesto, and summarises the prospect of such pledges on the day nursery sector, specifically in relation to Property and Business.Since the announcement of the new Conservative Government on 8th May there has been significant media coverage relating to the pledge to double the number of funded childcare hours, from 15 to 30 per week, for working parents of all three and four year olds by 2017, with pilots commencing in 2016.  The Government has also pledged to begin the much campaigned review into childcare funding. Additional hours need to be properly funded so that the costs of delivery are met; inadequate funding does not support sustainability and without adequate funding some nursery businesses could be at risk.

However, there are other aspects of the Conservative manifesto which equally provide prospects for the nursery sector.

Firstly the topic of business rates, secondly the Government’s commitments to new housing developments, alongside the exploration of garden cities, and linking into that the relaxation of, and proposed localised approach toward planning applications.

So, starting with business rates:  The government have pledged to conduct a major review into business rates by the end of 2015 to ensure that from 2017 Business Rates properly reflect the structure of our modern economy; provide clearer billing; better information sharing; and a more efficient appeal process. There are significant variations of Rateable Values, in part due to inconsistencies in Valuation Office Agency valuers differencing approaches to valuation methodology.

This major review is long overdue and very much welcomed; the case for day nursery exemption will be further presented during the review. Were nurseries exempt, financial savings would aid settings sustainability.
Moving on to planning and property; with a shortage in overall housing supply the Government intends to support ‘locally-led’ garden cities and towns in places where communities want them. Community facilities will be pivotal to the success of such schemes.

Pledging to protect the Green Belt, Brownfield land will be utilised for residential development and Local Authorities are to become duty bound to register the availability of Brownfield sites, and subsequently required to ensure that 90% of suitable Brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020.
While the Conservative manifesto falls short of a comprehensive housing strategy, subject to planning and development funding, all new housing developments and garden cities are to be designed and developed with community at the forefront of mind, thus new day nursery developments, and expansion opportunities for businesses will arise.

With new development opportunities available, thoughts must turn to planning policy – moving away from new build nurseries, but considering properties suitability for conversion to day nursery use.
Many nursery owners and operators share with me that having firstly had difficulty in finding a suitable building to convert, they encountered further challenges when trying to gain planning consent, particularly where consent for a change of use of is required – say from residential, to nursery.
During the term of the coalition, the Town and Country planning (Use Classes) order 1987 was amended.  Those amendments permitted buildings and land within a number of specified Use Classes to be able to change use to either a state funded school or a registered nursery use, subject to certain criteria being met. This created the opportunity for nursery owners to consider a wider pool of properties in certain uses and their suitability for conversion.

The relaxation of planning controls will be built on further, the Conservatives have pledged for local people to have more of a say on local planning so there is a greater prospect for owners and operators to increase their engagement with communities and open new nurseries in areas whereby demand is judged to be required.
One further Property positive is the post election forecast by the Centre for Economics and Business Research which reports that, as a result of the Conservative win; residential property values are to rise by circa 5% before the end of this year.  While operational day nurseries, when valued for banks secured lending, investment or exit purposes, are ordinarily valued with regard to earnings and profitability, any improvements in underlying asset values are to be viewed positively.

The pledges made by the Government will be extensive and far reaching in a number of different ways, across a range of business and property matters that are very much pertinent and important to day nursery owners, providers, parents, families and the early years workforce. Since the NDNA conference the Government has put out a call for evidence ahead of its review into the cost of delivering free childcare places – there is little doubt that the next five to six months are going to be incredibly busy on the policy front as the Government race to implement their manifesto pledges as swiftly as possible. In the race to get to the finishing post of implementing pledges, the right steps and comprehensive consultation must undertaken – particularly with regard to the funding review, failure to do so could have much longer term implications. We are all familiar with Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare – slow and steady better aides sustainability, and ultimately wins the race. 

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