After Labour raised concerns about the Government’s unfunded promise to increase dramatically the number of childcare places for two-year olds, Wandsworth Tories have agreed to a cross-party lobby to get the funding to pay for the plan.
Labour’s new education speaker, Sheila Boswell, gave this speech to Council on Wednesday night:
‘Big promises to increase free childcare places for disadvantaged two-year olds make great headlines. But with no guaranteed funding attached, this is yet another example of fine words from this Government on family policies – with NO clarity on how, when, and if funding will actually be provided to deliver it.
The Government’s own report states: “We propose to work with local authorities, to consider the approach to distribution of the Early Intervention Grant in time to feed into decisions about allocations for September 2013” That’s just 15 months away. Yet this does not appear to have happened.
The so-called ‘uplift grant’ of £495,000 falls far short of the estimated extra cost of £2.6million and you admit that: “ there is currently no confirmed additional Government funding approved.”
In Wandsworth where currently there are 102 free full or part-time childcare places for disadvantaged 2 year olds, with a further 86 planned. Increasing provision again by a further 700 places by 2014 will be a big challenge.
At the same time Cameron announces this unfunded plan the Tory-led Coalition is rushing to undo tried and tested Labour initiatives like SureStart, which if it had been expanded instead of being cut, could have provided the extra childcare places needed.
Despite a commitment in the coalition agreement to protect funding for Sure Start, its budget has been merged into the new local authority Early Intervention Grant, which must, in addition, fund mental health in schools, youth crime prevention schemes and teenage age pregnancy programmes.
This Government risks setting service against service, while it absolves itself of all responsibility and local councils are left to pick up the pieces with services fighting between themselves for funding. The Tories are applying a dog-eat-dog ,market approach – where there will always be losers – to such essential services as state-funded childcare for the poorest. This benefits no one.
It doesn’t make economic sense either: nationally over 30,000 mothers have given up work in the past year because they cannot find affordable childcare – that just ends up costing the taxpayer more.
The time of easy headlines for this Government is over – the opportunity to turn around disadvantaged toddlers’ lives, who through no fault of their own are born into problem families, cannot be compromised by failure to ask difficult questions and demand answers.
The Government’s own statement at the Early Intervention Grant launch said : “We want local authorities to be more transparent about what they are spending on children’s services so they can be held to account locally.” I suggest you start by holding the Government itself to account on its promise to toddlers, that without added funding they won’t be able to keep.