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 Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Children are NOT like mobile phones i.e each year you get a free upgrade (another child) which is lavished with MORE attractive features (benefits!).
    I do believe the state should give assistance but the parents have to also assist the state by being responsible. With childcare - work out first if YOU ( on your own) can look after/care for your child BEFORE having them! That's being responsible!

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    "They plan to increase prices for properties and build NO extra homes.
    Which is precisely the same situation"

    Development companies hold large amount of control over the ability to build houses in competition to them; in the form of 'land banks'. Housing behaves 'oddly' compared to other markets because you can't build a house without land and land is in fixed, monopolisable supply

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    What happened to friends helping each other out?

    There is no cost if friends can share the childcare.

    The additional places will just make it more worth while to become a child minder and pocket the extra dosh.

    Remove all subsidies, as its the persons option really to have children, they should have thought it through before embarking on child rearing.

    I get no subsidy why should anyone else?

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Homelessness up 25% in six months. The demand for Emergency Food Parcels up a stagerring 200%. A "Help back to work" scheme which means simply withdrawing benefits. And now dumbing-down Childcare.
    Cameron's "Welfare Revolution" must be seen for what it is, a brutal attack on Society's most vulnerable and those least able to defend themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    357. steve

    The latest Sun/You Gov poll has figures of CON 27%, LAB 38%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 17%.
    ^^^^^^^ same bacteria different drains^^^^^^

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Why not let nurseries and their teachers, alongside the local authorities decide this, with health and safety in mind, as well as considerations for age etc. I'm pretty certain no one would deliberately endanger children and they staff know how much they can handle.

    But no, nanny state, with it's teddy bear politics is dictating the agenda.
    Shouldn't you be looking at Syria instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    "Armando Davis
    I have only been a parent for a year now, and I totally underestimated how difficult a subject childcare actually is. I don't have any answers to how to resolve the issues, but the system itself does not appear to be working"

    Sounds like you didn't really think about childcare properly and now expect a 'system' to be in place to help you out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Several people here have commented that nurseries will pocket the extra money as opposed to pass on the savings. Yes - and why not? Would you subsidise them if there were too many nurseries and not enough children to fill them? Its called supply and demand ... if more spaces become available, costs will drop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Mr Clegg suddenly seems to disagree with everything the Coalition wants to do and a large dose of sour grapes seems to be on his menu.

    He washappy to go along with Mr Cameron and even throw his party's manifesto in the bin to curry favour. It's amazing what happens in politics when it's not all going your way but should we be surprised as the Lib Dems have now done themselves so much damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    And today, lo and behold, Glegg is back-peddling, only 'having doubts'. Utterly predictable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Cameron thinks this will bring down the price of Child care.
    In the same way as the Spare House Subsidy will bring down the price of houses

    Barratt announce today that there has been an increase in demand following the Chancellor's announcement.

    In response

    They plan to increase prices for properties and build NO extra homes.

    Which is precisely the same situation.
    Clegg right for once

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    I have only been a parent for a year now, and I totally underestimated how difficult a subject childcare actually is. I don't have any answers to how to resolve the issues, but the system itself does not appear to be working. There appears to be no balance that really works for the average Joe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    340. where am I
    Wages have fallen for 5 years. It has not stopped prices soaring
    Its partly down to continuing rise in our numbers which pushes up prices.

    Absolute nonsense, commiditity traders have manipulated pricing structures. Monetary wars are pushing prices even higher. Premium goods (the ones ppl want) have risen beyond the official inflation figures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Just 2 years to go until Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are confined to the political history book.
    The latest Sun/You Gov poll has figures of CON 27%, LAB 38%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 17%.

    The Conservative score of 27% is the lowest YouGov has ever recorded for the Tories

    The figures would equate to a 100 Seat Labour majority.

    So the LD's will have their Coalition co-conspirators for company!

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Children I want to continue with the story. (post 349)
    Peter asked if those were the days when females produced their own young...
    Yes .. Ellie stop squirming !
    Of course now a panel decides who will be selected to have offspring. Only tolerant people who aren't RACIST HOMOPHOBES are allowed to have children, and as we all know they are produced in State breeding tanks, and educated by the BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Is Clegg getting some backbone & standing up against this outrageous tories who think everything they dream up to hurt the ordinary people should be so, it a bit later now but libdems should have stop a lot of tories policies from day one then millions of people working,unemployed & vulnerable wouldn't be suffering & struggling so much now

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    This country has always had a poor record towards children, work houses, chimney sweeps, institutional child abuse.
    There needs to be a fundamental change is Society before we can expect government to implement policies that truly place children where they should be. At the top of ALL our priorities.

    Mustn't touch wealthy pensioners but happy to impoverish children

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    End all state childcare and all funding people to let a parent go off to work. More than soon enough free childcare is handed out called schools. Your children, your cost to look after them. Not cost, your time. We are funding literally a 'nanny' state, child dumping on strangers for cash. The real reason government does this is to create double taxation, first the parent, then the carer they pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    So after massive attacks on the poorest in the UK, School exam reorganisations, benefit reductions for the disabled, NHS budgets being cut whilst waiting lists are up, social housing in dire straights but tax breaks for millionaires.. this is the only thing the Lib Dems can stand up to the Tories about.

    Desperate & pathetic.

    Where were Cleggs objections when they were really needed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Mothers have been duped into foregoing their children's most precious and fleeting early years, and for what? Equality? Equal to sit behind a desk earning money to pay for someone to distract your child until they can be reunited at the end of the day.

    Equal? Sure.

    Progressive? Definitely.

    A good thing? Definitely not.


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