For many years the cost of child care – nurseries and child minders – has been rising much faster than inflation. However in England over the last year the costs stabilised according to a survey by the Family and Childcare Trust.
Over the period of the survey inflation was around two per cent. The cost of child minders is up slightly less than this for those looking after children under two – slightly more for those aged over two. The cost of after school clubs has actually fallen across Britain.
But the big contrast comes with the cost of nurseries. In England the average cost of nurseries for children aged two and over was unchanged on a year earlier. The costs increased by 2.2 per cent for those aged under two.
In Wales the figures are very different – increases of 13 per cent and 11.7 per cent respectively. In Scotland – where again this is a devolved area – the increases are 8.2 per cent and 4.8 per cent.
That divergence reflects the efforts of the Education Minister Liz Truss to cut red tape for nursery schools in England. Further liberalisation is taking place. Miss Truss said recently:
We’ve simplified funding. Any good or outstanding nursery will be able to access money – just like childminders – without jumping through any further bureaucratic hoops – and we estimate about 80% of nurseries will automatically get funding.
And we’re making it easier to expand.
We want planning rules – a long, cumbersome process that’s a big frustration for many nurseries – to be much more straightforward too, so they can convert office and shops without requiring additional planning permission.
And we’re replacing a patchwork of local quality and registration standards – with single, national quality and registration standards – so that expansion across more than one authority is easier.
That frees up nurseries that want to grow.
It means that local authorities can focus on encouraging the best providers to their area, and support the weakest providers.
A lot of these changes are mundane. For instance avoiding the duplication of having to register with both the Early Years Register and the General Childcare Register. Or encouraging informal childcare by friends and neighbours by raising the threshold so the requirement to register with Ofsted starts after three hours rather than two. Or allowing registered childcare providers to work in multiple locations eg both in a nursery and on a school site without needing to register each site separately. There has been a conscious effort to eliminate pointless, tedious restrictions.
While this agenda is being pursued in England, the Welsh Government is busy piling on red tape to constrain the child care market in the Principality.