Labour calls for funding gap to be solved before 30 hours roll-out

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Labour peer has tabled an amendment to the Childcare Bill calling for ongoing issues of underfunding to be addressed before the free childcare offer is doubled.

The amendment put forward by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, calls for the education secretary to establish a comprehensive and sustainable funding solution, taking into account the findings of the funding review, before introducing the 30 hours of free childcare.

The 30-hour childcare offer, which will be available for three- and four-year-olds from families where all parents work a minimum of eight hours a week, is due to start from September 2016.

The tabled amendment goes on to state that if the secretary of state does not follow the recommendations of the funding review, she must prepare and publish a report outlining the reasons why.

A Government review into funding of the free places is currently underway following a call for evidence, which closed on 10 August.

Baroness Jones’ amendment to the Childcare Bill, which will be debated at the House of Lords on 14 October when it reaches the report stage, also calls for the eligibility of the 30 free hours to be extended to parents who do not work for a minimum of eight hours but meet the following requirements:

  • have a zero hours or other flexible working contract;
  • are not in work but receive work-related training;
  • whose contract has unexpectedly ended through no fault of their own;
  • are the main carer for a family member; or
  • who regularly does voluntary work.

maggie-jonesBaroness Jones of Whitchurch (pictured) told Nursery World, ‘We [Labour] very much support the principle of extending free childcare and it was a commitment in our manifesto.

'However, we have received numerous representations from the sector saying that the Government proposals simply will not work unless they address the funding gap as the current free places are being provided at a loss.

'These concerns were raised with the Government before the summer and they promised a funding review. But now they are insisting on proceeding with the legislation before the outcome of the funding review is known.

‘We are very angry that the potential benefits of this Bill are being squandered. The Government needs to properly address the funding implications so that the burden of childcare costs on working parents can be alleviated.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, 'We warmly welcome this amendment by Baroness Jones, which echoes our own manifesto call for a large-scale funding review.

'It is absolutely imperative that the Government looks to not only increase funding rates, but also establish a sustainable mechanism that ensures that rates continue to cover delivery costs in the long-term. This can only be achieved if the Department for Education first gains a full and thorough understanding of provider costs, and this is a process that cannot – and should not – be rushed simply for the sake of pushing the bill through as quickly as possible.

'It is reassuring to see that these concerns are being recognised and raised by peers, and we very much hope to see this amendment accepted at report stage.'

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said,  'The right funding is vital to the viability of childcare reform. NDNA and many member nurseries have put a great deal of effort into their submissions to the current funding review.

'We now need the Department for Education to respond to that evidence and to deliver the meaningful increase in funding that the sector is looking for. It’s clear that politicians across the spectrum will also be scrutinising the outcome with the Childcare Bill a major priority for the Government.

'Nurseries are ready to unlock much-needed extra capacity to deliver more hours for three and four-year-olds but investment must be enough for them to be able to balance the books.'

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, 'We support Baroness Jones’ amendment on the funding review. The Government will not be able to deliver on its promise to double the early years education (EYE) entitlement unless the current funding shortfall is properly addressed.

'We would also like to see the Government commit to a regular assessment of childcare provider finances, in the same vein as the existing childcare and early years providers survey. Childcare providers cannot be supported to grow and improve the quality of their services without an understanding of their financial position and sustainability.

'PACEY members are concerned not just about the level of funding, but also about a range of additional barriers many of them face in delivering the free entitlement, including inflexible payment procedures and red tape. For many childminders, a perceived lack of demand and the ban on related children are also significant barriers.'

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