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 270.

    @217- If you cannot look after your own children, you shouldn't have them

    What rubbish! There is nothing wrong with being a working mum, nor is there anything wrong with staying at home. Don't make people feel guilty for trying their best. What a shameful thing to say

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    So, when nurseries are allowed to have a larger child / adult ratio, why does anyone assume the nurseries will pass any saving on? They are much more likely to pocket the additional profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    easy on, no one is sugggesting that children are a commodity open to free market forces, but the time spent by others whose profession it is to look after them is.

    My other half has been in childcare all her career and i assure you, most nursery workers work on minimum wage or just above. All the price hikes in hourly/daily rate are going straight into the owners back pocket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    What is needed is cheap, affordable childcare and parents with a living wage. Then the amount of money a family has got to spend will increase and they will buy goods which in turn improves the economy.


    (bet this government of millionaires haven't thought of that)

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Again Clegg proves his utter, irredeemable uselessness. Either LibDems dump him now and maybe live to survive, just about, for a comeback after the next but one election. Or they stick with him (despite the harm he continues to do) and face certain and permanent electoral oblivion from 2015. Withdrawal from Coalition = early General Election = interesting times. Early General Election, anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    leave it to 2015 and he will go down the tubes ..big time
    I'm afraid not. Going by the council elections and the cameron/miliband polls I give it a 70% chance currently of a Tory majority. If they sort out the UKIP slide by addressing immigration et al that goes up to 80%. Of course if Scotland votes for independence its 99% regardless. Labour needs new leadership or theyre done

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Nick Clegg - the man who wants to end childcare funding? HURRAH! Its unsustainable; why is the taxpayer supplementing childcare costs when there is such a big deficit and so may people are out of work? Parents have children - let them fund whatever ratio of minders that they want. If a parent wants to stay at home to look after their child that's laudable. Don't have society pay for your nannies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    The real issue here is wages.

    There is plenty of money for people at the 'top' - be they bankers, BBC executives or local govt managers...or the major supermarkets, with senior management on millions, while cashiers' wages are topped up by the taxpayer.

    The childminding sector seems to be staffed by people on minimal salaries. Get money to THEM, and watch standards rise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Another 'coalition' split. Nick Clegg consigned the Lib Dems to oblivion when he went into coalition and turned them into pseudo-tories in voters' eyes.

    He was in a unique position, holding the balance of power in 2010, and threw it all away to drink from the poisoned chalice of personal gain.

    I'm betting £100 the Lib Dems will get no more than 6 seats at the next general election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Good on Cleggy. The bravest man in British politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    All this talk of supply and demand economics... these are CHILDREN, not a commodity to be traded. You have been brainwashed if you honestly believe free market economics either works or is suitable in a debate of this ilk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    124 payforyourownkids

    > Kids or career, your choice, don't expect me to pay for it if you wan't it all.

    I suspect you were a child once, and did not pay for yourself. And whatever opportunities you have had, and taken, probably enhance the degree to which you are able to pay society back.

    Kids matter. If some people don't want them that is fine. But bringing children up well will help everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    With regards to comment 221, we parents today are definitely not luckier! Childcare for my daughter costs over £1200 a month and parents are no longer allowed to have any sort of informal arrangement with a friend where you say each look after each other's child/children for a few hours to save on the childcare costs - as though we would let someone we didn't trust look after our children!

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Sounds good but every time Lib Dems say something rigth they vote with the Tory's. He has to put his vote where his mouth is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    What does this man know about anything?

    He comes from a rich family, has never had to struggle, went to a top private school, the best university, has never had a real job and expects US to listen to what he says.

    This man is a complete lightweight and a waste of public money. He got to where he is by some slick PR and a few brief public debates, but he has absolutely nothing to offer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

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

    No problem there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    For the critics of Nick Clegg, it would be refreshing to know whether they agree with him or not. Regardless of what happened in the past, policy is being made now - what are your views about the ISSUE? It is patently clear that many are pre-disposed to ridicule Clegg no matter what he does or what he has positively contributed. Stick at it Nick, don't take any notice of the boo boys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    I am fed up subsidising other peoples children. Children are the responsibility of their parents not the taxpayer.
    Clegg seems to be a believer in a bottomless pit of taxpayer money to fund a socialist dreamland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Re241. I completely agree with your comment about 239.

    It is a cheap & lazy throw-away line to say that immigrants take our jobs.People use it when they don't have facts to hand as if by saying it they are proving a point. In fact it's the opposite.The line used by 239 has been selected from a host of generalisations from the media which need to be substantiated not thrown around like driftwood

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    If Clegg doesn't support this then Cameron should dissolve the Coalition and call for an election, lets be right here, with UKIP not fully up and running, no real Labour Policies to talk about, its his best chance of ever having a total Tory Government, leave it to 2015 and he will go down the tubes ....big time ...


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