Alliance slams government refusal to release childcare funding info despite ICO ruling

Leading early years organisation the Early Years Alliance has slammed the government’s “shameful” decision to refuse to publish information on how current childcare funding levels in England were determined, despite an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruling instructing the Department for Education to do so.
 
The Alliance appealed to the ICO after the Department for Education refused a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the organisation, which asked for:
the calculations or broader thinking underpinning current early years funding levels
proof that the national early years funding rates set by government in 2015 – which came into effect in 2017 and were frozen until 2020 – were calculated as being 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. However, in October, the ICO ruled in the Alliance’s favour, and instructed the DfE to provide the relevant “spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation” by 14 November.
 
The DfE has, however, today confirmed to the Alliance that it will not be providing the information as it has lodged an appeal with the First Tier Tribunal, which deals with appeals against ICO decisions.
 
Commenting, 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 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 has been confirmed as a key political background in the upcoming general election, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats recently announcing plans to extend existing ‘free childcare’ offers. The Conservative party has yet to announce any childcare pledges, but is rumoured to also be considering extending existing offers.
 
According to early years research company Ceeda, the early years sector in England currently faces a funding deficit of £662m. Statistics recently published by Ofsted in response to a Parliamentary Question revealed that more than 500 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders closed a month on average in the financial year 2018/19.
 
ENDS

About the Alliance

  • The Early Years Alliance is the largest and most representative early years membership organisation in England. A registered educational charity, it also provides high-quality affordable childcare and education to support children and families in areas of deprivation throughout the country.
  • The Alliance represents 14,000 members and supports them to deliver care and learning to more than 800,000 families every year. We deliver family learning projects, offer information and advice, produce specialist publications, run acclaimed training programmes and campaign to influence early years policy and practice.
  • The Alliance website is www.eyalliance.org.uk