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 490.

    Too much too little too late from the turncoat LibDem leader. After supporting the Nasty Party's assault on the NHS, amongst others, he now pretends to care. The wastebin of political history beckons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    @479 Paul

    Sorry forgot single people, but my point is that the tax system rewards parents to work full time and put their children in the care of others, rather than to take responsibility of bringing the children up themselves

    I don't ask for more, I just think we reward the wrong behaviour. parents visible in our communities during the working week would be a very good thing on many levels

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    486 kevin jenings

    > Great news max 4 children only
    Can we expect urgent legislation banning anyone from
    Having more than 4 children.

    How are you going to do that? Forced abortions?

    Get real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    I am a mother of 3 (the eldest being 22, the middle one 19 and youngest is 11) I have always worked at home as a Registered Childminder, School dinner lady when they were at school and presently and even a second job working as an Agency Care Assistant at weekends.

    We have no parental help from either parents as one set are not living and the other set are not local.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Great news max 4 children only
    Can we expect urgent legislation banning anyone from
    Having more than 4 children.
    We will save shedloads on child benefit and perhaps get much needed
    Population deduction

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    481. The March Hare. true; I posted my last comment on the wrong theme.
    And if we had better childcare, schools, uni access, and so better social mobility, millionaires Cameron and Clegg might not be in the wrong jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    @483 Fear Not why do you assume only girls are capable of working with children? I know of 3 male childminders in my area alone. Child carers looking after large ratios of children could be dangerous, in an emergency how would a childminder get to A and E and how would she care for many children, providing activities and meals as childminders do every day?

  • Comment number 483.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Clegg's behaviour is irresponsible for a senior minister. If he can't get his view across in Cabinet he should pipe down in public or resign. Now if the Conservatives went into a coalition with UKIP they would (a) reach and exceed their targets on immigration, much faster, and (b) get nearly all their other policies through. So why not? The EU, of course - so we know where they really stand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    @453.Genghis can.

    I think you're on the wrong blog,Genghis. !

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    Nick has got this wrong too. Child care needs to be made more affordable and this bill will help to achieve that. There are so many talented parents out there that could contribute to the economy but can't afford to work; something has got to change. Kids will be fine, accidents will happen but they always do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    The people currently worse off in the tax system are couples with children where one parent works."

    No, it's single people without children. Everytime the huge demographic of parents decide they need 'just a bit more to be comfy', they reach into these people's pockets through the tax system.

  • Comment number 478.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 477. must be right
    To be fair (and as a cat owner) Cat's DO hunt mice and thus 'earn their keep'! Cats are also affectionate and through loving 'purrs' do kinda 'support' humans :)
    419zrzavy comment is kinda valid as to own ANY pet the pet store requires you to prove you can care for it independently beforehand! Why is less expected of humans wishing to have children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    The people currently worse off in the tax system are couples with children where one parent works. This is morally wrong. The tax system should encourage one parent to stay at home and be a parent, not force parents to farm out their kids for others to bring up. I'd be all for full tax break for this group for 2 kids for 5 years. Will never happen because it will upset the feminists

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Clegg is belatedly trying to show that he has teeth. I wish he had shown his teeth when he waved through the terrible NHS reforms. Is this a pre election strategy to show that he very occasionally stands up to the Tories?

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    I should like to know where the parents are in all this?

    They brought their children into the world, but clearly think it's someone else's responsibility to look after them while they take on a job that barely pays for childcare, thus denying youngsters the employment they so desperately need. One of them should stay at home, as mothers so often did.

  • Comment number 473.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    So, a 21 year old with a degree knows all about children. And Charlies my Aunt. Today primary school children are turning up in nappies. Obviously all parents should be required to be graduates. Or, maybe, parents should start being parents and stop delegating. Is that new car, foreign holiday or whatever really more important. (upset a few there I think).

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    We all know what principles mean to Mr Clegg.

    And he's not exactly "in Government" - he just traded his soul to hang on to its' shirt tails...for which he will pay.


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