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I commend Andrea Leadsom for securing this important debate today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Lucy Powell on her superb leadership of the all-party group on nursery schools, nursery and reception classes. I have been to several meetings. They happen to be held in room 14, and I am always amazed by how many people come from across the country to attend those all-important meetings to make the case for maintained nurseries, in particular.
I first came across the importance of this sector in education when I was a county councillor in Warwickshire. I realised the supreme importance of getting not only to these young people, but to young parents, who are perhaps inexperienced, first-time parents. I realised that there was such a need to help with those early weeks and months of a young child’s development and to assist young parents, who, as I said, may be a parent for the first time, to understand what has just hit them in their new lives. Having visited so many of the children’s centres, I was always struck by how important they were and what a fabulous environment they provided, which was not just safe, but very stimulating, and that was great for both infant and child. It helped them to develop their skills and provided the support for the parent, challenging what was normal and making the child think about those around them—perhaps something they did not have that home. It was a fabulous environment for them to prosper in.
It was a shame therefore to see the breaking up and closure of so many Sure Start centres and children’s centres. In Warwickshire, we have lost 25 of the 39 children’s centres we had seven years ago. That leaves our communities and society with the challenge of provision, particularly in highly deprived areas. In the time I have available, I want to focus on the work of maintained nurseries. My constituency is lucky to have some superb maintained nurseries, and I want to highlight in particular the ones in Warwick and Whitnash, both of which I have visited.
The vast majority of maintained nurseries are set up in the most deprived areas and are so important, but no matter how good they are, they are only as good as the people who run them and the funding they have to sustain themselves. That is the challenge. While many of us welcome the Government’s introduction of the free 30 hours’ provision for three and four-year-olds, it is having an impact on the viability of these nurseries and their ability to sustain themselves given the financial pressures. People working in maintained nurseries are on a real pay level of £3 or £4 an hour, which is way below the minimum wage and a long way short of a national minimum wage.
Maintained nurseries are important for stimulating and developing young infants in those early years—the 1,001 days we have been talking about. I join others in recognising the work of my constituency neighbour the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and the additional funding he secured. I commend him for doing that and urge him to bring certainty to these nurseries, which are under huge pressure from the funding crisis they face.
Finally, I pass on my thanks to all those who work and volunteer in these nurseries and elsewhere in our provision of early years across Warwickshire but certainly in Warwick and Leamington. I cite in particular the example of Warwick Nursery School, which will be celebrating its 60th birthday tomorrow. I thank them all for their work.