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08 March 2017 | Childcare & Education

Commentary from Christie & Co's Childcare & Education team on the Spring Budget 2017

Announced as a Budget to help ordinary working families, it started positively followed by fuel in confidence via upgraded OBR growth forecasts: a resilient economy was stated and employment projected to grow. Comfort was offered to all UK business owners, as the Chancellor announced his ambition for the UK to be the best place to start and run a business.

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Moving onto the hotly awaited topic of business rates, the Chancellor confirmed that business rates cannot be abolished – despite this being called for by so many. Contributing £25 billion a year to fund local government, abolishment was stated as being unfeasible.

The Chancellor did confirm that he would review the business rates revaluation process and that he would set out a preferred approach, however following consultation, such would not become effective until the next revaluation which, with revaluations every five years, could be as late as 2022.  The Chancellor did announce three concessionary measures in relation to business rates, the clear winner being the public house sector. Describing pubs as community assets, the Chancellor announced a £1,000 reduction in business rates payable by pubs that have a rateable value below the £100,000 threshold. There was no mention of any concessionary measures on a like for like basis for day nurseries, despite many nursery operators expecting a 40% increase in their rates payable from 1st April 2017.

The Chancellor went on to talk about the upcoming introduction of Tax Free Childcare and the roll out of 30hrs ‘free’ childcare from September 2017. On the occasion of International Women’s Day the Chancellor went onto announce three new initiates and while all very worthy causes, an opportunity in relation to the valuable role and further support offered to the UK’s private nursery sector which facilitates circa 80% of all UK childcare, was lost. But the Chancellor continued, “a well-functioning market economy is the best way to prosperity and security for working families" and then, "the litany of failed attempts of state-controlled industry by Labour, leaves no-one in any doubt about that.”  

Contemplating the recently published reports as commissioned by the DfE which evidence that the private nursery sector in England delivers high-quality, and the most cost-effective childcare, the Chancellor announced a green paper to protect consumers. What a lost opportunity to acknowledge the important and valuable role of the private nursery sector, and offer support and a fair funding rate for the delivery of 30 hours, along with annual inflationary allowances and open ability for the scheme to be administered as private providers choose – yes, such an announcement may have been a slightly far fetched dream, but this Budget was a lost opportunity for the Chancellor to reward and demonstrate his appreciation for the childcare sector in these tentative times preceding the government's intended introduction of 30hrs childcare.  

On the independent education front, the most exciting announcement made by the Chancellor was the offer of maintenance loans to part-time undergraduates, and doctoral loans in all subjects for the first time.

By Courteney Donaldson, Head of Childcare & Education at Christie & Co