Almost 100 childcare providers and nurseries have closed in Richmond Borough since March 2015, according to data published by Ofsted.

The is one of the biggest drops in providers seen by any local authority in England and has led to calls from The Pre-school Learning Alliance for ‘urgent action’ to address the funding crisis, which has left more than 40 per cent of providers in England contemplating closure next year.

The data shows that one in five childcare providers in Richmond have closed since 2015.

More than one in five nurseries and other early years childcare providers in Richmond have closed since 2015, according to data published by Ofsted.

All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week during term time.

But since September 2017, parents can claim an additional 15 hours if both they and their partner earn less than £100,000 a year but more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the minimum wage.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance argues that the funding the Government provides for the scheme is not enough to cover the costs incurred by providers.

Almost three quarters of local authorities in England lost early years providers in the first seven months after the 30 hours scheme was introduced, while 98 per cent have seen a drop since 2015.

In Richmond, there were 10 fewer providers at the end of March 2018 than there were before the policy changed in September.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said the new scheme had "further exasperated" funding problems already experienced by providers under the 15 hours scheme.

He added: "There has never been any such thing as free childcare. It’s subsidised childcare.

"Early Years funding is frozen until 2020, and while our costs go up, we’re just told to make it work."

Since 2015, the number of available places in England has not been reducing at the same rate as providers, and in the most recent 12-month period, they increased by 3,800, despite a loss of more than 1,700 providers.

A similar picture can be seen in Richmond, where there were 85 more places at the end of March compared to the previous year.

According to Mr Leitch, providers are being forced to take on more children to cope with the funding pressures.

Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, said it was "normal in a private market" for providers to join and leave the Ofsted register.

He continued: “We want every child to have the best start in life, and it is great that more than 340,000 children have benefited from a 30 hours place in its first year."

The Government is also supporting new childcare providers by providing grants to reimburse them for some of the costs of setting up their businesses, he added.

Cllr Penny Frost, Richmond Council cabinet member for Children’s Services and Schools said: “The childcare market has changed considerably both nationally and locally since 2015 with the introduction of the Early Years National Funding Formula in April 2017 increasing hourly grant funding for childcare providers from £3.62 to £4.70

“Additional changes in how childcare is delivered means that although the number of individual providers may have changed the number of childcare places may not necessarily have been affected.

“This includes previous out of school provision of childcare now being delivered in schools, with registration for those places no longer measured through Ofsted directly. As a result, the full picture of childcare provision in the borough is not captured in this report.

“Richmond upon Thames continues to be in the top five boroughs for take up of fully funded childcare places for two-year-olds and hourly funding for three and four-year olds has increased to £5.12 per hour since March 2018.