Parents, nursery staff, and politicians in the North East have reacted to the Chancellor’s budget announcements this afternoon, saying his plans “go some way to resolving problems”.

But some remain sceptical about the here-and-now impact that these changes could have for struggling parents and nurseries.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled a wide range of plans for preschool and primary school, aiming to get parents back to work.

By 2025, free childcare will be extended to cover all children between nine months and five years in efforts to get parents back to work. This will give all working parents 30 hours of free childcare a week.

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This announcement has left early years education providers concerned over how they are expected to accommodate the extra children that this will bring.

Linda Chapman, who runs Borrowby Nursery School, near Thirsk, said: “Like a lot of industries, childcare experiencing staff shortages.

“Changes need to be staggered so that nurseries can recruit and train new people.

“It is really good news that we are getting this new funding, as we have had very little from the Government for a very long time.”

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Linda has noticed an increase in the number of parents struggling to pay childcare costs as the cost-of-living skyrockets.

She added: “I always try to take an individual approach with each family. It will be lovely for families to have that security, and the plans sound really good for people wanting to go back to work.

“But I don’t want parents to feel pressured into going back to work – different families have different needs.”

UK childcare costs are some of the highest in the world, and have prevented many parents, particularly mothers, from going back to work. For some, it is not financially viable or sensible to return to work until their child is in school full time.

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Some parents believed that the changes were “too little, too late”.

Josh and Amy, of Darlington, said: “For our son, 2025 will be too late. We need help now, whilst times are tough, rather than in two years’ time.”

Concerns have also been raised about the Government’s plans to change staff-to-child ratios in early years education – moving it from one carer for every four children, to one carer for every five.

One parent told The Northern Echo that the newly unveiled budget worried them about the “quality of care” for their children.

“My son is quite quiet, and in the past, we’ve had issues with teachers and childminders not paying him enough attention.

“I hope this change doesn’t impact teaching and development.”

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Worries over the sustainability of these plans have ricocheted through professionals in the field - as the childcare industry has been plagued with closures in the last three years. 

Alice McCullagh, director of Rosedene Nurseries, echoed what Linda said: “The chancellor is right to have finally recognised the importance of early years provision in both offering the best start for children, and for the role it can play in delivering economic productivity by supporting people into work.

“For too long, nurseries nationwide have been operating at a loss on so-called ‘free childcare’ for three-year-olds, driving up costs for fee-paying parents, and forcing many to close.

“On the face of it, today’s announcement of increasing funding by around 30 per cent, will go some way to resolving this crisis.

“However, the commitment to expand free places to all children over nine months, will be challenging for a sector which has been hit hard by inflationary pressures and closures, especially since the pandemic.”

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Mary Kelly Foy, MP for Durham City, has also been concerned by nursery closures. 

She said: “Just like roads, railways and schools, affordable childcare is a vital part of economic infrastructure.

“As the party of childcare Labour have for months been calling for greater childcare support, to help parents and families get back to work and put money in their pockets.

“But the devil will be in the detail – more free hours mustn’t mean more underfunded hours.

“Childcare provides are telling us that the current system doesn’t work, so increasing free childcare entitlement will be useless if payments to providers are so low that nurseries close and reduce the number of places available.”

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But Tory MPs are confident this budget will bring growth and prosperity to their constituencies.

On the childcare budget, Richard Holden MP said: “With these phased changes going directly to the pockets of working families, I want to see this implemented as soon as possible.

“However, I look forward to enjoying the overwhelmingly positive impact this budget will have across the nation but particularly on our towns and villages in North West Durham.”