Councils' plans for a childminder agency pose a 'conflict of interest', warns association

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A childminding association has expressed concern over a plan by two local authorities to set-up a childminder agency while providing support to independent childminders.

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The association-Independent Childminders (ICM-SE), says a proposal by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to establish a childminder agency under community interest company (CIC) Achieving for Children – which also works with new and existing childcare providers – presents a conflict of interest.

Bea Heath, director of ICM-SE, said, ‘Local authorities have already stopped all support for childminders rated good or outstanding by Osted. But here we have two local authorities that have set up a CIC to both run an agency and continue to offer briefings for those wishing to become childminders and support those judged by Osted as requires improvement. Is this not then a conflict of interest?

‘ICM-SE childminders locally are asking what guarantee childminders wishing to remain independent will have that the service will remain impartial when dealing with childcare inquiries from parents.’

The association’s concerns are shared by the new shadow children and families minister Alison McGovern.

She said, ‘The concerns being raised show precisely why there has been so much reluctance to go down the agency road. There are real questions of conflict of interest and damage to independent childminders that could be detrimental for both parents and providers unless carefully addressed.’

But the Department for Education (DfE) told Nursery World that ‘any council that sets up its own childminder agency has a duty to support independent childminders judged less than good by Ofsted’.

Also, to prevent conflicts of interest, it expects councils to adopt a ‘new and separate structure’ if they wish to run a childminder agency. One way of doing this, says the DfE, is through a CIC.

The Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies said, ‘A CIC has an overarching aim of delivering benefit to the community.’

A consultation carried out by Richmond Council on its childminder agency plans over the summer found that 80 per cent of childminders who responded said they would not join an agency or did not know if they would join one. But 66 per cent of parents said they would consider using an agency.

The CIC regulator went on to say, ‘There is greater level of transparency and accountability with CICs, and this is demonstrated through the community interest report, which is filed each year with the company’s accounts.’

The regulator confirmed that a company such as Achieving for Children can hold multiple contracts on a range of activities, subject to it meeting its community interest statement.

A spokesperson for the London Borough of Richmond and the Royal Borough of Kingston said, ‘We are not planning on launching a childminder agency until the middle of next year. Development of the agency is still in the very early stages, and how it will work is still being decided.’

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