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, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    We must not let these reforms get through and I welcome Nick Cleggs decision.

    These reforms are simply about the tories cutting costs so they can pass on the savings to their millionaire banker friends in the city in the form of tax cuts.

    It will be the children who will suffer if these reforms go through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    More "coalition chaos" FANTASTIC. The sooner this hideous mess of an unelected, stitch-up government ends, the better.
    Miliband has no chance of beating Cameron, he looses in every poll comparing the two and GE has become far more of a presidential race. The council elections were a farce for Labour, if Ed had got any closer to 200 gains he'd already have been challenged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    Another opportunity presented to GB businesses by this gang to provide a poorer service and to increase profit. The spin suggests that this scheme will in some way be beneficial to the customers. It won't be, it's more ripoff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    More "coalition chaos" FANTASTIC. The sooner this hideous mess of an unelected, stitch-up government ends, the better. I'd back the system they have in Japan, seven prime ministers in about eight years. In otherwords you get around a year to fix things, or your out.///

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    The real issue here is government involvement. There clearly needs to be regulations to ensure safety but it does not need to extend to the minute detail that recent governments have done. Whilst this whole thing descends into another political farce, the country will no doubt continue with the business of seeking out and placing their kids with childminders that they trust regardless of the rules

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Better to be in chaos than a privileged bullingdon boy who doesn't care one iota for ordinary people

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Families wishing to adopt have to show -beyond reasonable doubt - that they can care for any child they wish to adopt. Humans that can have children naturally should WANT to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they can care for their children independently-before having them! Isn't that what 'family planning' is all about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    totally agree with transition town man

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    How will it lower costs though? So you increase the ratio: more children = more money to lower cost but

    You have to increase pay/costs to either

    1) Reflect increase in work or they quit/move;
    2) To attract a higher caliber of staff;

    Or with a shortage of child minders it becomes a sellers market and they charge what people need to pay get a place.

    Call me cynical but what is the alternative?

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    How stupid is 'what?' Having more than children than you can look after or expecting the state to automatically provide assistance once someone decides to have children?
    If some humans choose to NOT have children if they feel they cannot adequately care for them - what does that say of those have children with NO idea of what child care entails? Is 'Family planning' stupid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    397.tim willis
    the problem is we have an aging population
    I think the aging population issue is being taken a bit far. The sudden increase is due to the post war boom and the rapid increase in life expectency. Theres a limit though to just how long you can live so once the boom generation passes it should level out again as a proportion of the population

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Bumble. How appropriate! We could do as you suggest. We would lose our home and been a real burden on the system. My son knows that he is loved thanks and he knows that working is normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    The sands of time are rapidly running out for Calamitous Clegg.
    If ever there was an example of how to take a small political party from obscurity to annihilation in one brief term then this is it.
    It's a case of come in number 6...are you in trouble number 9.
    Lib Dems will be wiped out come 2015 & they have their idiot of a leader to thank for it. Fill in your Tory party app form Nickel Arse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    It seems to me that the arguement about not having children unless you can afford them somewhat misses the point about what society needs, the problem is we have an aging population and unless as a society we do something about that then there will be no working population to pay our pensions, Society needs to support parents so that work pays and they can afford safe childcare as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    This childcare was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules on the number of children...

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Ed Milliband lives in a world where everything is 'chaos', every day he declares chaos somewhere new. God he must be a bundle of laughs to live with. "Darling, we have run out of gooseberry relish", "This house is in total chaos, its a shambles." Darling, could you remind the kids to put the toiler seat down after using it?" "God woman, this household is in total and utter disarray".

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    "Britain has some of the highest childcare costs in the world." How did we get to where child care costs more than the parent earns? Easy, the state (Labour) loaded requirement after requirement onto the sector until it became impossible to provide the service at an affordable cost. Then the state subsidised it making even more of us dependent on benefits.Job done. (If you're a socialist.)

  • Comment number 393.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Why does this need legislation. One of the things private schools sell themselves on this the number of pupils per class. Nurseries are basically the same set up, let them decide what their ratio is and parents can decide whats best for their own kids. Of course theres the argument that those with money will get better ratio's but that already exists in the current and school system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Typical Lib Dem approach
    Child care costs are too high in this country when compared to others. So, either child care workers are overpaid (unlikely), businesses are overcharging (likely) or the ratios are wrong - easy to check against other countries.
    So instead of fixing the prblem the Lib Dems will do nothing and Labour will vite against it becasue that's what yah boo politics entails.


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