Sky high rents cripple nurseries

PUBLISHED: 11:26 16 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 07 September 2010

Josie Hinton NURSERIES crippled by sky-high council rents have been forced to raise fees – pricing many parents out of childcare. Westminster Children s Society (WCS) runs nurseries across the borough and subsidises children s fees through its own fundrai

Josie Hinton

NURSERIES crippled by sky-high council rents have been forced to raise fees - pricing many parents out of childcare.

Westminster Children's Society (WCS) runs nurseries across the borough and subsidises children's fees through its own fundraising.

But the charity has been forced to raise fees to meet rents set by the council. Charges remain high despite £672,000 in government grants paid to the council this year to increase affordable childcare.

Regent's Park and Kensington North MP Karen Buck said: "The situation is a complete mess. We are supposed to be aiming to help parents into employment but they are being priced out of childcare because Westminster Conservatives want to make money from the arrangement. WCS is totally blameless. It has no choice but to stump up and raise fees accordingly."

Carlton Hill Nursery in St John's Wood has been charged £57,000 annually, while Lisson Green Nursery, on one of Britain's most deprived estates, is being forced to pay £24,000 a year.

As a result, WCS nurseries now have many empty places, while cheaper nurseries such as those run by the Westminster Pre-School Learning Alliance are heavily oversubscribed. Parkview Pre-School, on the Warwick Estate, has 20 parents waiting for places while nearby WCS Warwick Nursery has vacancies.

But Westminster Council says an independent review of property policies is under way and due to be completed by the end of January. It includes a workshop for voluntary sector representatives to raise any issues.

Acting head of early years, Mike Potter, said: "In the meantime, we have continued to respond positively to requests for support from childcare providers, including Carlton Hill Nursery.

"We take providing excellent affordable childcare very seriously and strongly disagree with the claims that have been made.

"We are helping parents into employment and have expanded our outreach service to target hard-to-reach groups, promoting affordable childcare across our children's centres and are looking to commission affordable childcare places in partnership with Job Centre Plus to support lone parents' access to employment."

WCS chief executive June O'Sullivan said: "We have been in regular discussion with Westminster Council members who have been very supportive in finding an interim solution to assist with the costs in question at WCS.

"Eager to read the outcome of their independent review, we look forward as ever to working closely with the council on any strategy that might help resolve the matter for the benefit of all concerned - and in so doing, raise the life chances for more children and parents in Westminster.

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