Nursery education cuts will lead to childcare problems
After having their initial proposal to cut nursery education from full to part time overturned in court last May the Labour Cabinet in RCT are yet again trying to force it through and are currently consulting on it.
In an effort to satisfy their legal requirements this time around the current report contains slightly more information regarding childcare sufficiency than the previous proposal. It is disappointing, however, that very little work appears to have been carried out to ensure the Council actually complies with its legal duty.
As stated in the report which went to Cabinet in October this year the Council have a legal duty:
under section 22 of the Childcare Act 2006 (the '2006 Act') to "secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the provision of childcare (whether or not by it) is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area who require childcare in order to enable them (a) to take up, or remain in work; or (b) to undertake education or training which could reasonably be expected to assist them to obtain work."
It refers to a report to Cabinet on 23rd June which provided a very sketchy picture of what is available. Much of it relied upon information fed back from child care providers and in many cases this was not forthcoming. It appears then that in the haste to get a report completed no checking was done in order to ensure the information was up to date and accurate.
RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats are concerned that there are not enough childcare places in RCT to cope with the inevitable increase in demand. Day care provision is not evenly spread and is non-existent in some areas, as evidenced by the difficulties experienced by the Council in locating Flying Start centres in some places.
Flying Start is a Welsh Government initiative which provides free child care for children in certain deprived wards. The scheme has taken up many places across the county, and whilst it may have been welcomed by many of the nurseries involved this will have affected the number of day nursery places available.
The day care nurseries that exist are only set up to take children up to age three as they then traditionally move on to Nursery school. It is our view that they are unlikely to have the capacity to take on the number of extra children involved, and would struggle to provide wrap around care in many instances. Has any real effort been made to establish this?
The report which went to Cabinet in October states:
If Cabinet decides to initiate a consultation on the proposal, the question whether the proposal enables the Council to meet its "childcare sufficiency" duty would need further investigation by officers; and the results of that investigation would be reported back to Members in order that they could be taken into account before any final decision was reached. Officers would need to investigate further what childcare needs would be created by the proposal; and what provision is either in place to meet them now, or could be put in place (and within what timeframe it could be put in place).
This bears out our comments that not enough has yet been done. It is ridiculous that a year after the Council first put forward these proposals this work has not been carried out.
Many parents would not be able to continue working if they had to pay for extra childcare. They will have arranged their working pattern around the fact that, as they thought, their children would go to school at age 3. It cannot be suddenly pulled with just a few months' notice and despite all the time that the Council have had to make changes then it will still be the case that should it go ahead it will be sprung upon parents with short notice.
Nursery schools are educational establishments and they certainly should not be there simply to provide childcare, but the knock on effect of full time education is that they do. In an economically deprived area such as RCT this is an essential service which contributes to the local economy. The Council has a cross cutting responsibility to the communities it serves. With its proposals to cut back on nursery education the Labour Council is yet again letting down the people of RCT.