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

  • CURRENT
  • 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)
  • PROPOSED
  • 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
    -14

    Comment number 239.

    Clegg is a standing joke, so why should his views on this be taken any more seriously than his views on anything else?

    In many ways, he's a typical LibDem. Wants mass immigration, which causes urban sprawl. Yet his local parties pretend to want to defend the green belt.

    Keeps on spouting the lie that the UK would lose millions of jobs if we left the EU, yet happy to see immigrants steal jobs...

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 90.

    I, too, find it sad that whenever Nick Clegg is involved in a policy statement we are bombarded by such shallow vitriolic attacks on him mainly because of one historic student fee policy change. He represents ideals that many of us agree with. Debate the issue here not the person.
    PR was voted out just to spite Clegg. UKIP may just make Tory MPs wish they had thought through their policy first.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 4.

    More government nonsense. Again.

    Getting completely fed up with these teddy bear politics now.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 219.

    Absolutley nothing wrong with these proposed ratios.
    If the staff cannot cope with that level of children then they should be sacked for incompetance.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 214.

    @200 Oh, yeah, right: As the country buckles under the weight of the pensioners who spent their working lives fixing a way to retire early on lots of money without thinking who would pay for it, you're suggesting that people stop having children if they don't want to look after them?

    Because that'll help the pensioner problem how exactly?

    It's not about not wanting to look after them.

 

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