Good news for hundreds of Northamptonshire early years providers as council pays up

Early year's providers have been underpaid for many months but the council has now settled the bill for most.
Early year's providers have been underpaid for many months but the council has now settled the bill for most.

Almost all of the 280 nurseries and childminders owed money by Northamptonshire County Council have now been paid.

The authority says that there are just a dozen early years providers in the county still owed money and that they will be paid by the end of this month.

The news came at a cabinet meeting yesterday (May 15) at which the ruling Conservative group decided to take on most of the recommendations given to it by the scrutiny committee which in March looked into the payments fiasco.

For the past 18 months the authority, which has been in the midst of financial meltdown, has been paying many of its early years providers late and/or wrongly. The problems started after the introduction of a new computer system at the same time as bringing in a new monthly payment system.

One provider was owed as much as £98,000 by the authority and nurseries and childminders across Northants said the problem was causing them to pass on extra costs unwillingly to parents and also consider not taking in under-fives with funded childcare places.

Cabinet member for children’s services Fiona Baker said: “I agree that errors have been made in the past. We have had a complete audit of the payment systems and we do know know where the errors are taking place and we are working very hard to make sure that in the future our system is as secure as possible.”

And council leader Matt Golby said the council was taking the matter ‘very seriously’.

He said: “We need to be better. It is not enough to accept to be allowing things to happen in the way they have happened before.”

The recommendations of the scrutiny committee were to consider reverting to termly payments; pay outstanding debts as soon as possible; understand the problems and put in place ways for early years providers to get in touch quickly with the authority; look at why other authorities can use the same system successfully and consider reverting to the old software system.

The cabinet agreed all of the recommendations apart from the return to termly payments and going back to the old software system because it is now consulting with the sector on whether this is what it wants.

Assistant director of children’s services Sharon Muldoon said she had made a committment to not make any changes without asking the providers first.

Early Years provider Julie Norris spoke at the meeting and said members of the facebook group which has been used by childminder and nurseries to keep in touch over the past 18 months were unanimously in favour of keeping with the currently monthly payment system.