‘Parents should not should pay large nursery charges – Labour’s plans are promising’

A mum of four has said it is “frustrating” parents are forced to cough up huge sums on childcare so they can return to work as she backed Labour’s planned shake-up.

Annemarie Bartlam, 40, who is a primary school receptionist, met Keir Starmer as he visited her workplace Nursery Hill Primary School to launch his childcare expansion plans. She told the Mirror that Labour ’s plan to create 3,000 new nurseries in existing primary schools was “promising”.

But Ms Bartlam raised concerns about staffing issues and said the Labour leader did not mention improved wages for child carers. “The pay is not as good. It’s the same with everything. A lot of NHS staff are leaving… They’re going to get different jobs that are better paid,” she said.

The Tories announced plans to expand free childcare, which include 15 extra free hours for two-year-olds from April this year, and the same for nine-month-olds from September. Labour is committed to continuing the plan if it gets into power. But nurseries have struggled to deliver the policy as the sector is suffering a huge staffing crisis.

Keir Starmer and Bridget Phillipson visited Nursery Hill Primary School to launch their childcare plans

Keir Starmer and Bridget Phillipson visited Nursery Hill Primary School to launch their childcare plans

Ms Bartlam, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, said her primary school has been looking to expand their in-house nursery to two-year olds but has been struggling to do so. “There’s just not enough funding to bring younger children to the school and not enough support for schools,” she said.

Ms Bartlam’s five-year-old has just started in reception after going to the nursery. Asked about her personal experience of childcare costs, she said: “When they get to this school and they have their free hours, obviously that’s beneficial but then any private nursery is expensive and it doesn’t help people get back to work. You’re just paying for somebody else to look after your children if you go back to work… It is frustrating.”

Ms Bartlam, whose youngest child is ten months old, welcomed the expansion of free childcare for nine-month-olds. “It would be good to be able to have longer off with my baby and have the support of longer maternity pay but if nursery funding and support starts at nine months then that will hopefully help parents return to work,” she said.

Mr Starmer later admitted more needs to be done to fix staffing levels. “We need to have a properly thought-through recruitment process, which we’re rolling out, and that will involve the local growth plan, the businesses, the local community, and the skills that we need to get those workers that we need in our nursery,” he said. “The government’s plan is a good plan in terms of the spaces that they need in nurseries. The trouble is they haven’t thought it through so they can’t deliver on it.”

Labour’s childcare pledges are funded by a plan to end tax breaks for private schools. Ms Phillipson dismissed claims that ending the tax breaks will lead to bigger class sizes in the state sector. The Shadow Education Secretary said removing the VAT exemption on independent school fees would actually ease pressure on the state sector by funding the recruitment of 6,500 extra teachers.

Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry at the weekend suggested “it would be fine if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes”. Asked about the remarks yesterday, Ms Phillipson told Times Radio: “I am afraid that just wasn’t right.

“Actually what we are seeing across the state sector is a falling number of pupils in our classrooms because of the falling birth rate, and there are fewer young people arriving at school. So actually we are going to be in the position pretty soon, and it is already the case in places like London, where schools are merging and closing because of falling numbers.” Asked if she would be having a word with her frontbench colleague, Ms Phillipson said: “Happy to do so, because that isn’t the position that we see at the moment.”

Keir Starmer also distanced himself from Ms Thornberry’s words. Asked whether his Shadow Minister was wrong, the Labour leader said:“Yes. We’ve had the analysis by the IFS [Institute for Fiscal Studies] on this which says that there will be a negligible impact, so we’re very confident about that.”