Mrs McKenzie had organised a panel which included shadow children and families’ minister Sharon Hodgson, Pre-School Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch and former NCMA executive Stuart Turner. The aim of the Saturday morning meeting was to provide feedback to Ms Hodgson and help inform future Labour Party policy on childcare.
Issues on the agenda included affordability of childcare, ratios, the free entitlement and cutting red tape. Mrs McKenzie said, 'We have met with Elizabeth Truss and given her useful ideas on how to reduce costs to providers and reduce unnecessary red tape. We have warned her that higher ratios and agencies will not lower costs but will certainly lower quality of care. However, it looks like she is not listening to us, and that she will fragment our childcare system as well as creating two tiers of care. Quality will be at great risk.'
Mr Leitch said that the free entitlement was ‘grossly underfunded’ and that parents were subsidising it by taking extra hours. He also said that the Government’s rhetoric on intervention was undermined by the suggestion that ratios should be reduced.
One attendee responded by saying that her biggest concern was for continuity of care under the scheme, asking how parents would be able to continue with a particular provider when their child became three, and the funding was reduced?
Mrs McKenzie raised the issue that despite being an outstanding childminder, she was unable to access funding for the two-year-olds because she was not part of an accredited network.
Responding to this a childminder in Lewisham said that networks no longer existed in her borough and that all of the red tape around delivering twos places had been removed. She reported that 2,000 places were needed under the current phase of the scheme and that all childminders were potentially able to deliver.
It was agreed that there needed to be consistency between local authorities in the way that they set their criteria for delivering the offer, and one way to achieve this was for providers to be proactive in making their views known.
Speaking in response to a comment on the funded hours not being enough to allow parents to work, Sharon Hodgson said, ‘The free entitlement was always intended as way to support children’s development and close the gap on outcomes, and not about providing childcare for parents.’
She invited attendees to contribute submissions on childcare policy to the Labour Party website.