Government to appeal ICO childcare funding rates ruling – Children & Young People Now

The Department for Education has refused to publish how it calculated its funding rates for the 30 hours childcare offer despite an order by the information commissioner, according to campaigners.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled in October that the DfE should publish the “spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation” behind the rates paid to local authorities, but the 14 November deadline will not be met, the Early Years Alliance said.

The DfE is appealing the ruling, the Alliance announced, describing the decision as “shameful”. 

The ICO’s ruling followed a lengthy freedom of information dispute and was hailed as a triumph for the early years sector as it would shed light on the apparent mismatch between the true cost to providers, and the DfE’s rate.

The early years sector in England has long been raising concerns over the issue, with research company Ceeda estimating that it is currently facing a funding deficit of £662m.

The request under the Freedom of Information Act called for the government to publish the calculations or broader thinking underpinning the rate.

The organisation also asked for proof that the rates set by government in 2015 – which came into effect in 2017 and were frozen until 2020 – were calculated to be enough to cover rising business costs over that time period.

The DfE argued that this information formed part of the development of government policy and that the need to keep it private outweighed the public interest in releasing it, said the Alliance. 

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “The Department for Education has always flatly rejected concerns that childcare funding levels have failed to keep up with rising costs, and continues to claim that it is investing more than enough into the early years sector. All we have asked for is proof that this is indeed the case. 

“The fact that the DfE is going to such extreme lengths not to release this information surely begs the question: ‘What have they got to hide?’

“The early years sector in England is reaching a crisis point. Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country are finding it impossible to make ends meet and, as a result, are being forced to increase parent fees, restrict funded places and, in a growing number of cases, close down altogether.

“The Department for Education clearly has some serious questions to answer about its childcare policy – but rather than taking this as an opportunity to prove once and for all that its approach to early years funding has been fair and adequate, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money trying to hide information that should be available to all.

“This is a shameful decision by the government, and one we urge them to reconsider.”

Childcare is one of the headline general election policy areas among opposition parties, with both Labour and the Lib Dems announcing plans to extend existing offers. 

The Tories are yet to announce their childcare pledges, according to the Alliance, which said the party is “rumoured to also be considering extending existing offers”.

Regulator Ofsted recently revealed that on average more than 500 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders closed every month in the financial year ending March 2019.

The DfE declined to comment, citing purdah in the lead up to the election.

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