Tracy Brabin defended childcare vouchers and said that a Labour Government would ‘do away' with Tax-Free Childcare.
She referenced official figures that revealed take-up has been less than expected with 800 million being given back to the Treasury since the scheme began.
Speaking at the annual NDNA conference today, she repeated Labour Party pledges to reverse £500m cuts in funding for Sure Start to ‘end the current postcode lottery’ of provision, as part of the party’s 2017 manifesto pledge of £5.3bn to pay for universal 30 hours for two-,thee- and four-year-olds. She said the money was ‘ringfenced’ and the party had ‘worked out how we are going to pay for it’.
Calling the early years sector her ‘passion’, and saying that she was in this job ‘for the long term’, she said the Government ‘just isn’t listening’ to what was a building ‘consensus’ on underfunding of the 30 hours policy, which she said was the ‘most pressing issue, the one I receive the most mail about.’
‘There have been big mistakes...it seems the Conservatives have focused only on childcare costs and getting parents back into work’ she said, adding it was clear the policy was unworkable without sufficient funding.
‘It’s just not right. I don’t believe the Government would treat any other sector like this. We are talking about people’s businesses.’
However her figures were challenged by Kate Peach, managing director of Each Peach Childcare in Hove, who described the conference reaction to the Labour universal childcare pledge as a ‘groan of horror’.
Ms Peach said, ‘I am really struggling to believe the promises you have made. It is all well and good with regard to the mistakes the current government have made. But many years ago this problem started because Labour insisted that we give away free childcare and it has just got worse.’
She added she expected the party to have a ‘Robin Hood approach’ to extra costs, saying ‘You are going to ask us to give [it] away free because why should we give away public money to private businesses? so that does fill us with fear.
‘I want to believe what you are saying, I just want to make the point that you should listen to us.’
She said that Labour would need to give parents an ‘awesome amount’ for their childcare, adding that because rates and settings differed around the country made it very difficult for any government to set a universal rate.
‘When you say you would be funding adequately - you can’t set my fees. It is entirely up to me... You can’t come up with the right amount', she said.
Ms Brabin said that rates would be ‘flexible’ and that settings would be a rate of £7.40 ‘supply side’ - from local authorities, which would come ‘with an expectation of minimum wage , training and quality.’
‘Of course there are going to be some conversations about that but that’s our current thinking and that is why I am here to hear what you have to say,’ she added.