Pre-schools offered extra support package by Wokingham Borough Council

Picture: LRCL / Pixabay

EXTRA support has been made available for childcare providers across Wokingham borough – but opposition councillors are questioning if it is enough.

The council has allocated an extra £100,000 to help nurseries and pre-schools in need of urgent financial assistance.

Grants of up to £3,000 are available to those across struggling to meet any immediate fixed costs, as a result of the pandemic.

Cllr Prue Bray, Liberal Democrat councillor for Winnersh, said it is “unclear” what this money is going to pay for.

Available from next week, the grants will be open to all Ofsted-registered settings as a last resort, and Wokingham Borough Council said there will be no requirement to repay the funds.

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We understand that nurseries and pre-schools have been hit significantly by the pandemic and economic downturn.

“From absorbing increased costs on items such as PPE, to bringing in less income due to more patients working from home, it has been an extremely stressful period for providers.

“This will act as a financial lifeboat to those who are struggling to meet certain costs.”

The ring-fenced funding is part of the council’s broader £1.2 million budget to support a range of coronavirus initiatives, including additional Free School Meals, rolling out lateral flow testing to key workers, and supporting contact tracing across the borough.

But Cllr Bray said she is unsure what nurseries will be able to spend this money on.

“It’s not exactly clear what these fixed costs are,” she said. “It also feels like a drop in the ocean compared to the overall costs of nurseries.

“It is better than nothing, but I’m not sure what they claim the money for.”

The councillor is also questioning whether pre-schools will be able to receive the entire £3,000 grant.

“I don’t think that many would spread to all the nurseries and pre-schools in Wokingham because there are more than 30,” she said.

Cllr Rachel Burgess, Labour councillor for Norreys, added that the emergency funding is welcome but also fears it may not be enough.

“There are minimum staffing requirements for nurseries to remain open, and arguably I think even before Covid, the funding for nurseries is too low,” Cllr Burgess said.

“This funding won’t be enough to fill the gap.”

She is also concerned that nurseries across the borough have not been receiving enough support when it comes to Covid-safety.

“Unlike schools, they’re remaining open throughout the lockdown but from what I gather, a lot have not been included in any initiatives to stop the spread of Covid,” she added.

According to Cllr Burgess, a number of Norreys nursery workers reported not being offered lateral flow testing, nor were they prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine.

To apply for grant funding, nurseries and pre-schools in Wokingham borough must email EarleyYears@wokingham.gov.uk.

The deadline for applications is Friday, February 26.

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