I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate, and all those other hon. Members who I know would have liked to take part but were not able to, as well as the many people across the country who have written in to their MPs to raise the concerns of early years settings.
This debate has gone a huge way towards addressing and raising the voices from the frontline, which is what needed to happen. There are many areas of cross-party agreement here, as the shadow Minister has said, and I recognise the steps that the Minister has already taken to address some of the concerns we have raised. However, there are a couple of areas of unfinished business that I would like to raise.
I thank Steve Brine, who is not in his place now, for raising the independent meaningful review. That would answer many of the questions that we have raised about not only short-term but long-term funding for the early years sector, which has been rocked by the covid pandemic and will need extensive changes to ensure that it is resilient and strong for the future.
I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate about their experiences or those of their own nurseries and headteachers, and about the concerns that are being felt. We share some things. We share the understanding of, support for and knowledge of the importance of early years education. We share a feeling of huge respect for early years staff, who are doing an outstanding job. We share a feeling that early years settings have been ignored too often, and that must be changed.
We have heard from the frontline that staff are scared, concerned and confused. I welcome what the Minister has said about monitoring the safety of early years and a commitment to reviewing that. Potentially, that means a commitment to closing down if the early years settings are not safe. I would like to go further and ask for that evidence to be published. That would go a long way towards helping to assuage a lot of the concerns.
I welcome the commitment to the expansion of testing and delivery, which was raised with me most often by my local headteachers and early years practitioners, and to include childminders further down the line. All those staff will need that assurance and knowledge about testing, especially because there is so much asymptomatic coronavirus in the community.
I also welcome the commitment to rolling out the vaccine—definitely to some in the first phase and potentially to some in the second phase—and to having a little more clarity on that. What that means and when it will happen was unclear to us, and will definitely be unclear to others. We would like some early indication of, at least, when the decisions will be made and how, so that people can plan and have some confidence.
I welcome the additional investment in early years next year, but I do not think the Minister will be surprised to hear that I think that might be too late for some. Additional investment, really understanding the census that she mentioned and the funding going to councils for the free entitlement need to be addressed right now. It is not enough to save the sector next year, because of the backward steps in its finances. Early years settings have gone to the extent of their reserves, and then some, in coping with this year and will need more funding next year. Further clarity on the use of the census date is needed. Going back to pre-covid levels is the fairest way to do this, because they all have pre-covid costs and they need pre-covid levels of funding. We need to look again at that date, perhaps when the census has been held and the results have come back, to see whether that is enough funding for nurseries—that would be very welcome.
I thank the Minister for her response and all Members for taking part today. As we all have, I thank again all early years staff, practitioners and childminders across the country for the work that they do day in and day out for our children.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on early years settings.