To the Point: Proposed new trade body

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Having proposed a new trade body for the sector, Alan Bentley explains how it could be structured.

It seems the views expressed in my last article raised such interest with Nursery World readers that the editor has kindly given me the opportunity to expand on the idea this month.

My concept of a true trade association is that it should be as inclusive as possible, not exclusive. If such an organisation is to have a genuine and moral mandate to speak for the sector, either to media or Government, it should include as many people working within that sector as possible.

This can give rise to problems. For example, nurseries operated by local authorities, relying directly or indirectly on government support, may have a different view of some issues than those in the private sector. This would probably be the case with top-up fees, or perhaps where the private sector is seeking no more than a level playing field, such as on VAT issues.

Other organisations, especially charities, might have a different agenda on commercial issues, preferring to concentrate on matters affecting more social or academic situations.

However, whatever the various interests and however they are represented, the stress should be on inclusion, not exclusion. The constitution of the trade association can be relied on to iron out problems this may present when it comes to expressing particular views to either government or media - with those having a conflict of interests simply abstaining.

How do I personally see such a trade association being developed? Well, we could do a lot worse than following the example of those providers in Kent who have come together to challenge the untenable position put to them on top-up fees. What if each county were to do the same? It would only take one or two active providers in each county to start their group.

The county groups could form into three regional groups, representing the main Ofsted geographical areas, and appoint a member from this enlarged group to sit on the main board of the trade association. Further members could be drawn from other representative groups, including NDNA and the Pre-School Learning Alliance. The advantage of this method would be both speed, and the sub-group structure, which could represent members at the very levels where problems occur.

At this stage I do not feel it appropriate to go into funding, and, in any event, that will largely depend on what members of such a newly formed group feel their trade association should get involved with. But for the first few years, the Childcare Corporation would be delighted to offer free accommodation and service facilities to any required secretariat.

Given the sensitivity of this issue, I repeat that the views expressed are mine alone, and do not reflect those of any other group I am associated with.

- Alan Bentley is chairman of the Childcare Corporation.

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