Jon Masters 26 June 2015

Childcare plans threatened by chronic council shortages

Some 38 English local authorities have failed to carry out and publish assessments of local childcare since 2012, despite being legally required to do so – a report suggests.

The Family & Childcare Trust today claimed these councils are putting government childcare plans in significant jeopardy. Many of them have a chronic shortage of childcare places, so are failing to meet the needs of working parents.

Trust chief executive Stephen Dunmore said: ‘These are worrying findings at a time when the Government is pushing through its ambitious and welcome plans to make childcare more affordable for parents.

‘Demand for extra hours of free childcare is likely to be high and we are concerned that a significant number of local authorities in England will not be able to meet this demand. We are calling on central Government to hold local authorities to account if they fail to monitor and publish childcare data by making it a requirement for receiving funding for the extended free childcare offer.’

Authorities named include Harrow, Bristol, Torbay and Tower Hamlets, all of which have high childcare costs due to lack of supply.

In contrast, Bolton, South Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire and Bracknell Forest were praised for showing no significant childcare gaps or shortages, monitoring local childcare places, and having action plans in place to make sure they meet the needs of families.

The Trust is calling for the Department for Education (DfE) to provide guidance to local authorities to help them monitor childcare effectively, and provide funding to help close the gaps.

In 2015 only 43% of local authorities in England, and 18% in Wales have enough childcare to meet the needs of working parents, down from 46% and 50% respectively in 2012.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘We want every family to have access to flexible and affordable high quality childcare. The latest figures show that 99% of four-year-olds and 94 per cent of three-year olds are accessing the Government’s free childcare offer. And we are doubling the amount of hours on offer to working parents, helping them back into employment if they want to work.

‘In addition, for the first time, more than one million children are now receiving provision in good and outstanding settings. This means they are receiving expert care while their parents return to work, should they choose to do so. ‘With more families than ever accessing childcare, new businesses can enter the market and existing ones can expand. We are crystal clear that councils should pass our funding in full to local childcare providers, and we have also committed to a funding review that will increase the amount providers receive.’

Cllr David Simmonds CBE, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: ‘The Government’s commitment to increase free provision for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week by 2017 will help alleviate pressure but it has to be properly funded in order to ensure that the problems some parents experience with accessing childcare are fixed.

‘Across the country, councils are working with local, private, charitable and voluntary organisations to ensure there are as many high quality and affordable nursery places as possible, but with funding wrapped up in the red tape of the wider schools budget, the current system is stifling councils’ ability to deliver the level of childcare that we all know we need.

‘With Britain's baby boom continuing, we urgently need to see the removal of barriers that stand in the way of delivering a more flexible and affordable childcare market.’

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