Following a Cabinet reshuffle over the weekend, Prime Minister Theresa May, who is currently in talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to form a new minority Government, confirmed that Justine Greening will continue in her role as education secretary.
The Conservatives are currently in talks with the DUP about a ‘confidence and supply’ deal, which sees the smaller political party support the larger one in key votes. It follows the general election last Thursday, which resulted in a hung parliament after none of the political parties won enough seats to have a majority in the House of Commons.
Mrs May has yet to announce the junior ministerial positions. The Department for Education was unable to confirm whether Caroline Dinenage will remain as early years minister. However, the former minister for vunlerable children and families Edward Timpson will not continue in the role, which he has held since 2012, after losing his seat in Crewe and Nantwich in the general election by just 48 votes to Labour's Laura Smith.
The early years sector has urged the next Government to make addressing the level of funding to deliver the 30 hours a priority.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘Although Justine Greening has been reconfirmed as education secretary, we are still in the dark about who will form the new Government. If the DUP are to play a role, it is imperative that the Government makes clear how the two parties will work together across key issues such as early years policy.
‘With the roll-out of 30 hours just a few months away, and the sector still battling with chronic underfunding, serious questions remain unanswered about the viability of the scheme.
‘The Government, in whichever form it takes, must look to address these funding issues as a matter of priority. If not, the 30-hour offer has little chance of succeeding in the long term.’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘The sector needs some certainty about what the new Government means for the Conservative manifesto commitments relating to childcare and National Living Wage
‘Childcare must be central to new Government policy and there is a lot to address, and urgently. First among this is funding for the 30 "free" hours policy that the previous Conservative government introduced.
‘The new Government needs to acknowledge that current investment is not enough for 30 hours to be delivered for families. Unless extra funding is found, nurseries must be given the flexibility to make mandatory additional charges, with the funding recognised as a contribution to the cost of a place.’
‘Above all, nurseries need the right support if the Government wants to deliver its 30 hours funded childcare promise.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said, ‘With Brexit negotiations starting in less than a fortnight, ministers must not underestimate the continuing challenges involved in rolling out 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds of working parents in England, and the development of the Childcare Offer in Wales. Funding levels for providers in many areas in England need to be increased in order for the 30-hour policy to be sustainable, and statutory guidance should be revisited to provide greater clarity for providers and local authorities. In Wales, confirmation of the funding rate for the pilots and more detail on implementation are required swiftly, as delivery begins in September.’
‘Our overriding plea is for a new childcare minister to be appointed quickly who is focused on getting 30 hours right before moving on to new commitments such as expanding childcare in primary schools in England. A policy that doesn’t recognise that the vast majority of places are currently delivered by private and voluntary sector providers, including childminders, can only ever be part of the solution.
‘Overall we need increased partnership working between the early years sector and the new UK Government, so current commitments on 30 hours and the workforce strategy are delivered successfully. This will go some way in giving all children a strong foundation for the future, helping to close the attainment gap and ensuring – in post Brexit Britain – that the next generation has the skills and knowledge it needs to help us all succeed.’
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said children's welfare should be a top priority.
'Now the Prime Minister has announced her intention to seek to form a new minority administration we want to ensure the well-being of children is high on the agenda of new ministers and MPs of all political persuasions,' he said. 'Children’s needs must be prioritised not compromised in discussions aimed at supporting the new Government.
'The Prime Minister spoke of the need for certainty going forward – and certainty is crucial for families and children whose lives have been harmed by successive cuts in welfare support.
'The crucial Brexit talks which will start soon should include a commitment to continue to retain or replace provision for children in disadvantaged communities which is currently funded through the European Social Fund.
'EU children living in the UK also need assurance that decisions about where they can live will be based on their best interests, not just their parents’ employment history.
'In order to maintain and improve safeguarding for children on and offline, the Government must ensure that the UK has continued membership of Europol and Eurojust, or that an agreement is in place for cooperation with these bodies and with the EU Commission.
'At home, urgent action is needed to tackle the shocking rise in child poverty, which is on course to affect five million children by 2020.'