Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
On 8 November 2016, I made a statement to plenary on the Childcare Offer for Wales, including our intention to begin testing the offer within six local authorities from September 2017. I would now like to update Assembly Members on progress.
Since November, my officials been working closely and holding regular meetings with the six local authorities who will be testing the offer as early implementers from September 2017. They are Anglesey and Gwynedd (working jointly), Blaenau Gwent, Flintshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Swansea. Work has focussed on establishing the specific areas within those local authorities where the offer will be available, the number of eligible children within each authority, and the likely cost of delivering the offer in these areas. Having considered the numbers of children to be included within these six local authorities, I have been able to invite Caerphilly as an additional local authority to participate from September.
We have been pleased with the enthusiasm and flexibility shown by these early implementer local authorities to date and impressed with their local knowledge and understanding of the childcare sector. They have engaged with parents and providers, as have we through our #TalkChildcare campaign. The messages the early implementers are hearing are very similar to the ones I am hearing around cost, access, flexibility, choice, and the logistical challenge of trying to balance childcare and work.
In addition to the early implementers and other local authorities, we continue to engage with a wide range of partners and stakeholders including parents, providers, childcare organisations, the Inspectorates and Commissioners. All have a wealth of experience and knowledge vital to informing the development, testing and implementation of the offer.
I have been clear from the start that our childcare offer must work for parents: they must have choice and flexibility. It must work for providers so they can maintain quality and help foster our children’s development in safe and successful environments. I have now agreed that the early implementers will test different things in different places, as set out below, to see what works and what doesn’t across as diverse a range of circumstances and communities as possible. This will inform the childcare offer as we look to roll it out further across Wales.
Anglesey and Gwynedd will work together to test the capacity of childcare providers in rural areas where many people travel a fair distance to work, as well as Welsh Language provision and how the offer works across local authority boundaries. Anglesey will test the offer in the areas bordering the Menai Straits and Llangefni. Gwynedd will test the offer in the well-being areas of Bangor, Porthmadog, Ffestiniog and Dolgellau. From January 2018, the well-being area of Caernarfon will also be included.
Blaenau Gwent will implement the offer across the whole local authority from September 2017. This will test how it breaks down the obstacles to employability created by childcare needs, especially in areas of low economic activity, and provide an opportunity to test the impact on in-work poverty.
Caerphilly will test the offer in the Mid-Valleys East region. This provides a good mix of urban and rural areas and localities with differing levels of employment and affluence. It has sufficient existing childcare provision, a significant number of working families who would be eligible and a large number of primary schools, (both English- and Welsh-medium) offering Foundation Phase nursery provision. Mid Valleys East also provides an opportunity to test transport issues around connecting childcare and local Foundation Phase provision.
Flintshire will test the offer in specified areas of Buckley, Bagillt and Broughton. This will allow testing of the offer in areas of low and high employment, across travel to work routes including travel outside Wales, and through a mixture of maintained and non-maintained settings. They will test provider capacity and the demand for childcare along with fit with the Foundation Phase and Welsh medium provision.
Rhondda Cynon Taf will test four school catchment areas spread across the three valleys and one Welsh-medium catchment area to ensure an even spread across the authority. These are Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun, Bryncelynnog, Ferndale and Mountain Ash school catchments. Within the chosen areas, there is a range of economic activity rates, providing an opportunity to test the impact of in-work poverty.
Swansea will test the offer in wards spread across the city including Dunvant, Penclawdd, Llangyfelach, West Cross, Morriston, Pontarddulais and Gorseinon. These are areas with high numbers of working parents with delivery through a mix of on-school provision and private childcare settings. They will test different models of provision, take-up and level of demand. They will also be testing Welsh language provision and opportunities for children with additional needs.
Whilst our focus at the moment is to support these early implementers to be ready by September 2017, my officials continue to work with the remaining local authorities so that they are in the best possible position to implement the offer as we move forward. The final budget published in December 2016 allocated £10 million in 2017-18 to take forward the development of the offer. We anticipate that the vast majority of the £10 million will be allocated to the local authorities to pay for government-funded childcare during early implementation This should allow us to test with approximately 10% of eligible families in the first instance. A smaller amount of funding will be needed for administrative costs and to commission an independent evaluation of the scheme. Learning from these early implementers will help us fine-tune policies and systems prior to a wider roll-out.
Delivering this commitment will be challenging and I do not underestimate what needs to be done. We need to put the right infrastructure in place and doing that will take time. We will continue to work with parents, providers and other key partners to ensure the system supports our children as well as helping working parents. I will provide further updates to Assembly Members as we begin testing the offer in practice.