PM hails ‘positive’ childcare intervention as parents quiz him over nursery capacity and staff

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Government’s childcare plan was a “really positive intervention” as he was quizzed by working parents over whether the nursery sector had enough places and staff.

Mr Sunak was speaking to parents during a visit (pictured) to the Aldersyde Day Nursery in Hartlepool as the first families in England benefited from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds.

One of the parents told the Prime Minister he thought there were issues of capacity in the sector and Mr Sunak said: “We’ve seen an expansion, actually, over the last year, both of the number of people working in the sector and of the number of places.

“So, they’ve both grown. That’s why we wanted to have a bit of a gap between announcing the policy and it coming into force, because you needed that expansion to happen.”

Another parent, who has two children at the nursery, said: “It doesn’t seem like the system has got the foundations right”, pointing out capacity issues and to how high nursery fees often hit families after they have been hit by income reductions during maternity leave.

Mr Sunak said this was exactly the problem this new initiative was designed to fix.

He said: “Your point is right, we need to take time to invest in the sector, to expand the number of places, because it’s such a big change.”

Another parent joked that, with three children at the nursery, “it should have come earlier”.

The Prime Minister said: “When we announced it last year, people said ‘why don’t you do it straight away?’ but, actually, it’s such a big change, we needed to make sure we had time to train more people to work in the sector, and expand the places.

“It’s not the kind of thing you can do overnight.”

Mr Sunak told reporters at the nursery: “This is a really positive week for the expansion of our childcare offer – to support families, giving them the choice of how best to juggle childcare and their career.

“We’re moving towards a system where working parents will have 30 hours of free childcare from the time that maternity leave ends at nine month for their little ones, all the way to four years, when they start school.”

He said: “I’ve been talking to families for whom that’s going to make a big difference.

“We’ve fully funded the programme and increased the rates that we’re paying to nurseries, making sure that there are more childcare places available, more childcare staff available, and the future looks bright.”

The policy, which came into effect on Monday, is the first phase of a plan to dramatically expand funded childcare for working parents.

Officials have said the number of parents taking up places will initially be in the “thousands”, but that is expected to grow by “tens of thousands” over the coming weeks.

The offer will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

The Government has said it is confident that the childcare sector is ready to deliver the offer and make sure parents have the childcare they need.

Labour pointed to an analysis of Ofsted data that suggests the number of childcare places fell by more than 1,000 between March and December last year, ahead of the anticipated increase in demand for places.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said at the weekend that the Government was “on track for more than 150,000 children to take up government-funded places”.

She added: “Support with childcare costs has an enormous ripple effect, freeing up parents to increase their hours at work and put more money in their pockets, or giving them the security to try out a new career or passion.”

However, Labour published a dossier about “childcare chaos” including testimonials from parents and nurseries across England.

Some parents complained of high costs and extra fees to pay while others reported 18-month waiting lists at some nurseries, the dossier found.

One nursery warned it could be “forced to go bust” under the Government’s expanded offer.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said at the weekend: “After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.”

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