NURSERY places could be lost across Dorset as a result of the pandemic.

Dorset Council says it is preparing for the closure of nursery places and other forms of early years childcare and may be able to help keeps the doors open in some cases.

The problem has been raised by Sherborne councillor Jon Andrews who says the town may be about to lose 72 nursery places and 16 jobs – unless a rescue package can be agreed.

“This will have an impact on not only the children but the ability of the parents to go to work. The knock on of which could be enormous for the local economy,” he told this week’s Dorset Council cabinet meeting.

He said it had been estimated that between 25 and 30 per cent of all 0-5 places, including nursery provision and child minders, could be lost.

Education and children’s services brief holder Cllr Andrew Parry says the council has been working with all early years providers across the county to assess their long-term viability.

He said that, with the Schools Forum, a fund had been set up to help those in short-term financial difficulty.

“Dorset Council hold a statutory duty to provide sufficiency of Early Years provision in Dorset as a whole but do not run this provision, in all but 3 instances...

“At this time we do not anticipate significant numbers of closures but there is a need to support some providers. We will use funds available to make sure that we maintain our duty for sufficiency. The specific provision in Sherborne highlighted is being financially supported by both the Council, Sherborne Town Council and the associated academy trust in order to ensure as far as possible it remains open and available to families in the autumn term. The council is in ongoing discussion with the academy trust about securing long term sustainable provision in the town.”

Cllr Parry said that there remained a longer-term issue around the funding of places, where these attract public funding and the council would be pressing the Government for additional support.

“The rates of funding nationally are relatively low and we would like to see this at a higher level. Across the country the viability of many nursery providers is challenging at this time because of the recent covid issues...We recognise the importance of the sector in terms of not only providing for early education but also in their economic impact in the local community as employers and providers of child care for working families. We are totally committed to ensuring sufficiency of provision in Dorset,” he said.