THREE nurseries have been forced to close after the owners said they could no longer afford to run them or pay their staff.

Workers at Acorns nursery, Little Acorns nursery and Oak Tree Nursery, all in Blackburn, were told the devastating news on Tuesday.

They shut for the final time yesterday, leaving about 24 people without a job.

There will also be about 75 children whose parents will need to find alternative childcare.

Owners of the privately-run nurseries, Kath and Paul Room, said they are devastated at having to close them ­— which they have run for the past 19 years ­— but feel they have no choice.

They said a lack of funding from central government to Blackburn with Darwen Council, and the introduction of the free 30 hours childcare voucher scheme has crippled their business.

Mrs Room said: “The budgets each year have got tighter, and tighter and tighter.

“What we’re making and how we use the budget doesn’t even cover our overheads anymore.

“We found that when they increased the free hours from 15 to 30, people would just use these and not pay for any more.”

The Rooms said that shutting their doors is the last resort as they have already exhausted all other options.

Mr Room: “We’ve done everything we can. We’ve borrowed money from people, dipped into our daughter’s savings, we’ve maxed out overdrafts to try and keep us afloat but we can’t make it work.

“We haven’t got enough money left to keep it going.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the number of kids coming through the doors and it doesn’t help that we’re owed around £20,000 from parents who just haven’t paid their fees.”

According to analysis by National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), the number of nurseries closing in England has jumped by 153 percent since the launch of the flagship policy giving three and four-year-olds 30 hours of paid-for childcare per week.

The analysis also shows that 28 per cent of closures were in communities within the 20 per cent most deprived areas of the country, with the highest number being in the North West.

The Rooms have acknowledged it is not the fault of Blackburn with Darwen Council, as they can only provide funding from the money they are allocated from the government.

They said: “We are already marketing the nurseries and if someone comes forward and wants to buy the business and keep the staff and the kids on then we will look into doing all we can for them.

“Some of our staff members are like family to us, we’ve lost our livelihood too and we are just heartbroken. It’s not what we wanted at all but we’ve had to draw the line somewhere.”

Cllr Maureen Bateson said: “It’s really sad to hear that three local nursery providers are at risk of closing and the impact that will have on the staff, children and their families.

“The level of funding coming into the borough from Central Government for us to passport to providers is causing many nurseries to struggle.Good quality, flexible childcare and early years education is vital to our children’s lifelong education and prospects and our economy.

“Nursery providers are telling us that they are struggling due to a number of factors including the fact that VAT has increased to 20 percent, national staff wage increases, pension contributions and increases in overall general goods and services costs such as food and electricity costs.

“This has all impacted on nurseries as the level of funding from the government has not increased to support providers to meet these costs.

“We echo calls for more to be done to prevent nurseries from closure and ensure a fairer distribution of Government funding to nurseries, especially in the North West.

“The council’s early years team will be available to provide support to help families find alternative provision should they need it and provide support for staff seeking alternative employment.”

On September 4 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, announced an extra £66 million for early years education in his Spending Round in the House of Commons.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said that while the extra money was welcomed, it wouldn’t bridge the gap in funding the sector.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to support early years providers in delivering high quality care and education, which is why we recently announced an extra £66 million to increase hourly rates for the Government’s free hours offers for 2020-21.”