The UK’s early years sector has called on the government to offer “far more help” to nurseries that will struggle to survive forced closures induced by the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes as the government announced last night that nurseries across the country will be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year from next month – a break offered to businesses in other sectors earlier this week.

Business rates are a tax levied on properties used for business purposes. The tax varies in size, depending on a business’s ‘rateable value’.

But chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years Liz Bayram said providers were “extremely worried” about surviving the temporary closures.

“The support already announced by government will help, but far more is needed to ensure childcare providers can survive this period of closure and rebuild the service so many families rely on to balance work and home, once we have beaten covid-19,” she said.

The government announced last night that all schools and nurseries across the country would close on Friday 20 March to help contain the spread of the covid-19 virus that has metastasised across the world, killing thousands and crippling businesses.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) also called for the government to support the nursery sector in the same way other businesses are being supported. Chief executive Purnima Tanuku welcomed the business rates holiday but said the relief is not enough. 
Nationwide closures could result in early years providers being forced to shut their doors permanently, Tanuku said.

“This is absolutely devastating news. I have just expressed my total shock and disappointment to the minister, who has previously assured us they would keep nurseries open as long as possible.

“How can the private nursery sector remain sustainable in the face of mass closures and expensive overheads?

“Nurseries will lose income from parents but will still have staff to pay and rental or mortgage costs.”

In a series of announcements over the past week, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has outlined measures to help keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus crisis, including business rates relief for companies in select industries.

Nurseries were initially not eligible, but Sunak announced last night on Twitter that the government would extend the support to early years providers. He said: “To support nurseries at this time, we have decided that they will also be eligible for a business rates holiday for one-year form 1 April.”

He added that local authorities would be compensated for the cost of this.

Andrew Steen, sales and marketing director at business broker Redwoods Dowling Kerr, which specialises in nursery sales, told this publication that the government should go a step further and offer to cover nurseries’ staffing costs.

Steen said: “It is vital that the government delivers policies to the childcare sector that offer support for a valuable industry and enable owners to open their doors once the lockdown period is over.

“One way for this to happen would be for the government to cover the staff costs during the period of shutdown.”