Childcare crisis: Northamptonshire lost the most early years providers during first five months of pandemic in East Midlands
Experts say coronavirus worsened an 'already precarious' situation for childcare sector
Between March and August 2020, Ofsted registration data shows the number of early years providers dropped by 1.8 per cent in the county - from 948 to 931.
Across the East Midlands, the number of providers fell by 1.2 per cent, above the average decline of 0.7 per cent across England.
Nationwide, almost three early years providers were lost every day on average during the first five months of the pandemic, with a fall in childminders driving the majority of the decline.
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Providers in predominantly rural areas Northamptonshire fell more sharply overall (1.4 per cent) than those in predominantly urban areas, which saw a comparative drop of 0.5 per cent.
The overall decline across England suggests that providers struggled to remain viable through the first lockdown, when all but vulnerable and key worker children were instructed to stay at home.
In September 2020, an Institute for Fiscal Studies report warned the first lockdown was 'likely to have damaged the financial health of many childcare providers, even after accounting for major government support programmes'.
It estimated that a quarter of private sector nurseries unable to collect parent fees during lockdown may have run a 'significant deficit', with at least £5 of costs for every £4 of income.
For childminders, it estimated almost 30 per cent who lost parental fees were likewise earning less than £4 of income for every £5 of costs in the early part of 2020.
According to the Early Years Alliance, financial problems in the early years sector have been long-standing, with the group recently accusing ministers in England of 'shamelessly [and] knowingly' underfunding the sector for the past decade.
Sara Bonetti, director of early years at the Education Policy Institute, says the pandemic worsened an 'already precarious' situation for the childcare sector, with nurseries already struggling to manage budgets and recruit staff pre-Covid.