Children aged under five years far outnumber childcare places in Devon, new figures show.

Childcare has been thrown into the spotlight after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made it a central subject of his spring Budget.

The Government plans to significantly expand free childcare over the next few years – but charities have warned they may be hampered by a lack of capacity in the sector and difficulties with recruitment.

Figures from the Department for Education show there were 12,820 places for early years childcare in Devon as of December 2022, while separate data from the 2021 census shows there were around 35,300 children aged four and under in the area.

This suggests there was one childcare place for every 2.8 children in Devon.

This was a worse ratio than across the country, where there were 2.4 children per place.

The Chancellor announced 30 hours of free childcare for all under-fives from the moment maternity care ends, where eligible, and he said the policy would be introduced in stages to ensure there is "enough supply in the market".

The offer of free childcare for working parents will be available to those with two-year-olds from April 2024, covering around half a million parents, but it will initially be limited to 15 hours.

From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, helping a total of nearly a million parents, and the full 30-hour offer to all under-fives will come in from September 2025.

Jeremy Hunt told Sky News that it was the "biggest transformation in childcare" in his lifetime.

He continued: “It is a huge change and we are going to need thousands more nurseries, thousands more schools offering provision they don’t currently offer, thousands more childminders.

“We are going as fast as we can to get the supply in the market to expand,” he added.

Ofsted figures further show there were five childcare establishments in Devon judged as requiring improvement, while the same number were rated as 'inadequate' at their last inspection as of December 2022.

These providers were responsible for 216 places – meaning 2.2% of childcare places in the area were at substandard providers, when excluding those not rated by Ofsted.

While 96% of the 38,969 childcare providers inspected across England were rated 'good' or 'outstanding', 928 required improvement, and 459 were judged to be inadequate.

Joeli Brearly, founder of campaign group Pregnant then Screwed, fears more money may be needed for the Chancellor's scheme to work.

Responding to the Budget, she said: “It is imperative that there is a clear and remunerated strategy to attract more educators into the sector, to retain those workers and to offer progression opportunities.

“Free childcare from nine months is brilliant, but only if there are childcare settings to be able to access this care, without the correct funding there won’t be,” she added.

Megan Jarvie, head of Coram Family and Childcare charity, said it was “crucial” that there is enough funding for the expansion of free childcare places.

“If it is not right then we are at risk of seeing big childcare shortages,” she said.

A recent survey by the charity found that 48% of local authorities are not providing sufficient childcare for parents working full-time.