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 430.

    Doesn't the UK's biggest crèche accommodate 650?

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    The country is over-populated.If people want to add to this problem, they should pay for their children themselves and not expect the state to contribute anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.


    Who picks up the bill for the social housing as we cant ALL be in a cheap council house?

    Hmmm not really thought through there matey are you in coalition by any chance?


    Enjoy your day!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    Too much interference fm Gov't. Nursery owners will fill the maximum allowed per adult, removing quality of care still further. And in the meantime there will be other stories like the 2 policewomen who weren't allowed to look after each other's child. Mothers are now forced to use nurseries and work, to the detriment of home relationships, and they will never be asked to pay less for less service

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    #412 - matthew
    "raise tax to provide free childcare"

    Wouldn't work, due to supply and demand. More dual income families simply means more competition for housing, means rising housing costs until equilibrium is reached.

    Winners are landlords and chilcare centres.
    Losers are everyone else.

    Lots more affordable housing, fundable by one parent on as lttle as min wage, is the obvious solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    Bumble.I do live within in my means.I pay my bills. I like many others feel that working is subsidising others whether on benefits or raking in huge salaries at companies we all have to use.My original point was that the govt want to make work pay.High childcarecosts don't promote that ethos.I proprose a better targeted use of money already being spent.
    I have a 2bed house thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Clegg - you have no principles. You are not saying this for the benefit of childcare, you are saying it to try to save your dying party.

    You've betrayed generations of students by voting for the increase in tuition fees. Now you are realising how the public have seen you for what you truly are; there is nothing you can do to prevent the extinction of your party at the next General Election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    @146: "Leadership Dave. Make it clear that if ANY minister does not support a Government bill they will be sacked."
    Why not go the whole hog and declare a dictatorship? Bar anyone who disagrees from even standing as a parliamentary candidate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    @The Bloke - And we've got people on the dole, yet we see immigrants taking unskilled, low pay jobs they need. That really IS horrible.

    Correction that is what 'you' see. And still no evidence....

  • Comment number 421.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Nick Clegg - what a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    My cats are costing me a fortune in medical expenses, but I do not get any government help. Ok, maybe I should not have them if I cannot afford them, but that rule applies to everything in life, including having children!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    How about you live within your means then rather than expecting everybody else to fund your lifestyle. If your morgage payments are to high then move somewhere smaller. Don't blame it on lack of chiildcare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    You're clutching at straws, Clegg. This won't improve the image of your party; the party who has betrayed its voters and the nation.


  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    I would have started to listen to Clegg on this one if he had actually been able to look after his political party.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Clegg, why don't you get yourself a back bone - you're in Government now! Governments are not meant to be popular.
    Stop behaving like Ed Miliband (jumping on bandwagons, opposing everything, spending other people's money and not an idea of your own).

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    "...unelected...government.....I'd back the system they have in Japan, seven prime ministers in about eight years"

    Firstly, by what token is this Government unelected?
    Minority of votes? If so, all Governments are unelected.

    Your second point highlights all that is wrong with Business, EPL Directors, Japan etc.. - short-termism.
    Ferguson ran MUFC for 27 years - a lesson there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    When I was a child, my father was a humple insurance clerk and my mother stayed at home. Housing was affordable because there was plenty of it, both in the private and social sectors. If there was a need for "childcare", then grandparents invariably lived nearby. No one needed a car, there was no delinquency, and the high street was busy.

    Affordable housing avoids the need for mass "childcare".

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Here is an Idea, every working adult in the UK pays an extra 1% tax, use that tax to provide free child care, with an additional 1% coming form the banks and .5% from all other businesses, that way people will be encouraged to work, creating mass profits and should aid in building a much better future for our country...

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Just read the latest on the BBC on this subject and the chaos just get's funnier and funnier - what a complete shambles this coalition are.

    What did they say "coming together for the good of the country" - they were having a laugh at us in the Rose Garden.


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