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Written Statement - Update on the Childcare Offer for Wales

Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
On 23 March, I provided Assembly Members with an update on progress in developing the Childcare Offer for Wales, and specifically the areas within the seven early implementer local authorities where the offer would be available from September 2017.  

All seven early implementer local authorities will be open for applications from eligible parents by the end of June in order to process the applications and confirm eligibility in time for parents to make their childcare arrangements for September.  

The focus of our childcare offer is supporting working families.  To access the offer from September, qualifying parents will need to;

• have an eligible child within the age range;
• live within the specified areas of the seven early implementer local authorities; and
• meet the definition of a working parent as set out below.  

For the purposes of our early implementation, a ‘working parent’ refers to parents and guardians who are working and earn, on average, a weekly minimum amount equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum wage (NMW) or national living wage (NLW).  Both parents in a two parent family, or the sole parent in a lone parent family, will need to meet this requirement.  Our definition of ‘working’ includes those who are employed or self-employed, and parents on zero hour contracts, where they can demonstrate they meet the minimum earnings over a 3 month period.

Detailed guidance for the seven early implementer local authorities will be published on our website later today.

Parents in pilot areas can contact the early implementer local authorities or their local Family Information Services for more information or help with their applications.

However, parents are only a part of the picture.  To make the childcare offer work, we need to ensure as many childcare providers as possible are engaged, and are both willing and able to deliver the government-funded provision.  

I can confirm that any childcare provider who is registered with and inspected by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, or OFSTED in England, will be able to deliver the childcare element of the offer from September 2017.  Whilst the parent and child must live within one of the specified areas within the seven early implementer authorities, the childcare element of the offer can be delivered by any registered childcare setting, regardless of location.  This is important to ensure parents have a choice of where they can access the offer, whether it’s close to home or to work.  It should also allow a wider mix of providers to participate, providing us with valuable learning about how the offer works in practice and its impact on the sector.

One of the messages we have been receiving regularly is that setting a funding rate which is both fair and reflects the current market will be key to ensuring the participation of the childcare sector and maximising the number of childcare places available.  I have therefore commissioned Alma Economics to undertake an independent economic review of the childcare sector in Wales.  Their work will quantify the economic impact of the childcare sector and provide detailed breakdowns of the costs and charges required for childcare providers to operate efficiently and sustainably.  This will also help inform the funding rate in the longer term.    

In the meantime, I need to set a rate that childcare providers will receive from September 2017stakeholders have been very clear in their discussions with us that they favour a single national rate which will apply in all settings wherever they operate in Wales.  Based on a detailed and complex analysis of data held by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, local authority Childcare Sufficiency Assessments, discussions with CWLWM members and feedback from childcare providers, I have decided to set a rate of £4.50 per hour.   This will be a single funding rate across all seven early implementer local authorities, ensuring clarity and consistency of the childcare offer for every parent and provider. This rate will be for childcare only and as now childcare providers will be able to charge parents for food and any additional services provided, such as transport costs or paid for activities. However, I will expect providers to take account of guidelines we will publish in respect of any additional charges to be made.

Early Implementer authorities already have arrangements in place to deliver early education to all 3 and 4 year olds and there will be opportunities to test the alignment of the two elements which make up the 30 hours in the pilot areas.

Learning from these early implementers will be important in helping us fine-tune policies and systems prior to a wider roll-out.  We will therefore be undertaking rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the early implementation of the childcare offer across all seven early implementer local authorities.  A contract for independent evaluation is currently out to tender.

Whilst our focus at the moment is to support these early implementers to be ready by September 2017, we continue to talk and listen to parents, providers, local authorities and others about the issues and challenges they face.  Last September, I launched our #Talkchildcare campaign. Over 6,000 parents and providers have engaged with us to date through the campaign, with 3,750 responses from parents to our #Talkchildcare online survey.  This is in addition to the #TalkChildcare roadshow and regional provider events that were held in different locations around Wales in February and March.  All the evidence and knowledge we have gained through our engagement work will be assessed over the coming months and I will publish a full report on the findings in due course.  

I am grateful to the seven local authorities that will begin to deliver the childcare offer from September 2017 for their work to date and for contributions from the sector and other key stakeholders.  They have all shown enthusiasm and flexibility, both in contributing to the policy development and in drawing upon their extensive experience of delivery on the ground.  It has been a genuinely collaborative process in keeping with the sustainable development principle established by the Well-being of Future Generations Act and I look forward to continuing this relationship as we deliver this offer to parents and children across Wales.