Nick Clegg 'to block childcare ratio reforms'


Newsnight's Allegra Stratton explains why childcare reform is a key issue for the coalition

Nick Clegg has told Conservatives he will block government reforms to adult-child ratio limits for childcarers, BBC Newsnight has learned.

In meetings over recent days he said he could no longer back the plan to increase the number of children nursery staff and child-minders can look after.

The deputy prime minister's veto could have funding consequences for the government's entire childcare package.

The ratio changes are set to be implemented in England in September.

Whitehall is now waiting for Prime Minister David Cameron to begin "horse-trading", in the words of one source, with the Liberal Democrats over the policy, or let it sink.

Insiders indicated they were hopeful they could persuade the deputy prime minister to change his position.

But Mr Clegg's spokesman said he "remains to be persuaded" that changing the ratios, as originally envisaged by Tory education minister Liz Truss, was a good idea.

England's nursery ratios

  • Under one and one-year-olds 1:3
  • Two-year-olds 1:4
  • Three-year-olds and above 1:8 or 1:13 (teacher-led)
  • Under one and one-year-olds 1:4
  • Two-year-olds 1:6
  • Three-year-olds and above 1:8 or 1:13 (teacher-led)

The reform, a high-profile element of the government's drive to reduce childcare costs, has run into fierce opposition.

In one survey, conducted by the National Children's Bureau, out of 341 early years staff interviewed, 95% said they were concerned about the policy.

The government's own adviser on childcare, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, has said the ratio plans "make no sense at all". In February, a coalition formed against the changes called Rewind on Ratios, run by the pre-school learning alliance and supported by - among others - Mumsnet and Netmums.

Statutory ratios for carers per child vary depending on age and setting. Those for children aged one-and-under are set to rise from three children per adult to four children per adult. Those for two-year-olds are set to rise from four to six children per adult.

Ratios for three-year-olds and over would remain at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate was present.

Ms Truss has championed the reforms, saying they will bring Britain into line with other European countries including France and Sweden.

Nick Clegg: "When the last [Labour] government changed the so-called ratios... it had almost no effect in reducing cost"

She says that allowing minders to care for more children - providing those minders have higher qualifications, a parallel reform she has proposed - would lower the cost of childcare and improve quality, by enabling the profession to attract those with higher salary demands.

Sources told BBC Newsnight that if the deputy prime minister does block the plan there will be funding consequences for the entire childcare package, which also includes £1,200 tax breaks on childcare for working parents - a central offer of the coalition government as they try to bring down the cost of living.

Britain has some of the highest childcare costs in the world, with many mothers with two or more children saying it does not make financial sense to work.

Mr Clegg's spokesman told Newsnight: "The delivery of good quality, affordable childcare is one of Nick Clegg's biggest priorities in government.

"He has looked very closely at proposals to increase the number of children each adult can look after - and at the very serious concerns raised by parents and childcare providers in the recent government consultation.

"Nick remains to be persuaded that this is the right thing to do for very young children. Or, crucially, to be persuaded that this would actually help families with high childcare costs. This continues to be discussed in government."

Allegra Stratton, Political editor, Newsnight Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, BBC Newsnight


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  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    The Tories really do show all the traits of the classic incompetent manager. Botched, half-baked solutions and all! This is what you get when you let a load of ex-public schollboys run the show!

    I'm not sure what the Lib-Dems stand for anymore?

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Does anyone, apart from the raving right wing, believe and give credence to any policy put out by the coalition. Everyday ezch one of their policies is shown to be wrong/flawed. Did anyone see DC commending the bills put forward yesterday, or was it a replay of the first Queens speech in 2010, because all the other commentators thought it a damp squid - just shows what rubbish DC talks

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    There is a shortage in childcarers which will massively increase over the next 10 yrs - if we don't increase the ratio they will simply increase their pay as a result of supply & demand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    How Cameron thinks this will bring down the price of childcare is beyond me.
    Its a matter of supply and demand, increase supply and the price drops as people have more choice. Whether it will increase supply enough is the question and they dont know unless they try. People complain when the government try something and complain when they dont. Who would be a politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Just goes to prove that the unelected coalition is not 'all in this together'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Well done Clegg. This was always a stupid plan.

    Let me spell it out for you government...
    Remove tax relief limits on childcare. Thousands of parents will then go back to work and pay income tax, so they'll be happy and you will make more money than it costs you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    If these politicians had ever worked ..for real.. they would know that increasing numbers will result in increased turnover/profit - NOT reduction in fees....dohhhhh

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    the tories want everyone to work yet if everyone puts there kids in childcare the kids wont see there parents as they be working 24/7 and wont have time to have any time for them

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    I'm relieved Nick Clegg is not going to support these changes. I'm all for making childcare less expensive (I have an under-two who is in nursery full-time - ironically if childcare was cheaper I could afford to work four days a week rather than five!). However I doubt the children will get enough one-to-one attention at the proposed ratio for 2-year-olds. I also doubt savings will be passed on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    239 Keeps on spouting the lie that the UK would lose millions of jobs if we left the EU, yet happy to see immigrants steal jobs...

    do you have any evidence for this horrible comment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Nick who?

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Clegg is a standing joke, so why should his views on this be taken any more seriously than his views on anything else?

    In many ways, he's a typical LibDem. Wants mass immigration, which causes urban sprawl. Yet his local parties pretend to want to defend the green belt.

    Keeps on spouting the lie that the UK would lose millions of jobs if we left the EU, yet happy to see immigrants steal jobs...

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Quite agree oneton (226) but how about a living wage for childminders?? Every time some mother starts complaining that it is not worth working what they are really saying is "I want the person who looks after my kids to earn a lot less than me"! These days we want all kinds of qualifications and targets for childminders but we still pay them peanuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Poor old Clegg - he is a rabbit in the headlights trying desperately to stave off electoral oblivion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Blimey, a bit late in the day though.I bet the Tories can't believe their luck, the amount of dogmatic legislation they've been able to push through.

    As the next elction will probably provide a Labour minority government, the Lib-Dems will only require a short move to Tory-Lite! We'll manage decline slightly better than the Tories!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    My only worry is that this will actually bring the costs up as a single person would need to do more work. In my current employment if I was asked to look after more people I'd ask for something in return. Stating the this slight increase in supply will bring prices down is unbelievable. The only thing that could do that is having huge corporations that can really drive the scale up and costs down

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Come the next general election voters need to have a long hard look at candidates and policies before casting their votes.Don't base their preferences on sound bites or who looks good on telly debates.Remember "I agree with Nick"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    This man should realise he go the least votes in the last election. Parents need nursery places so they can go back to work. This will help reduce nursery fees. You cannot say you want people to go back to work & then block one of the legitimate ways this could happen. Clegg spoke well at the debates but thats all he's got. No real substance to him

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    How Cameron thinks this will bring down the price of childcare is beyond me. The only people to benefit will be the nursery/crèche owners who will be able to mind more children with the same amount of staff. Do you think existing parents will get cheaper fees because of this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Too little too late Mr Clegg.


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