DfE under pressure to prove childcare funding sums add up following ICO ruling

Leading early years organisation the Early Years Alliance has called on the Department for Education (DfE) to publish information on how current early years funding levels in England were determined after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled in the charity’s favour following a long-running Freedom of Information dispute.

Back in December 2018, the Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the DfE asking for the calculations or broader thinking underpinning current early years funding levels.

The current national funding rates for the childcare sector were first announced by government in 2015, came into effect in 2017 and are frozen until 2020; however, the government has always claimed that they were ‘frontloaded’ to cover the impact of any delivery cost increases experienced by childcare providers up until the end of the time period. 

As a result, the Alliance FoI also included a request for information on exactly how the government concluded that the rates announced in 2015 were sufficient to cover the financial impact of business cost rises, such as increases in the national living wage, until 2020.

In response, the Department confirmed to the Alliance that it held relevant “spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation”, but rejected the FoI request on the grounds that the information formed part of the development of government policy and that the need to keep it private outweighed the public interest in releasing it. An appeal by the Alliance was rejected on the same grounds.

The Alliance then took the case to the ICO, which has now formally rejected the Department’s argument and ordered the DfE to disclose the withheld information to the Alliance by Thursday 14 November.

The Alliance’s call comes as reports suggest that the government is considering extending existing ‘free childcare’ schemes as part of pre-election manifesto planning.

Early years research company Ceeda estimates that the early years sector in England currently faces a funding deficit of £662m.

Commenting on the decision, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said:

“We are very pleased that the Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled in our favour and ordered the Department for Education to back up its repeated claims that existing levels of childcare funding are sufficient with actual evidence.

“Since 2015, when the government set the current national early years funding rates, the sector has endured a whole range of business cost increases – not least substantial rises in the national living and minimum wages – which have put significant financial pressure on providers already struggling to stay afloat.

“Week after week, we are seeing more and more nurseries, childminders and pre-schools across the country being forced to shut their doors as they simply can’t cope with the ongoing lack of adequate funding, while many of those who remain open can only do so by charging parents extra to make up for the funding shortfall.

“The government has always claimed that increases in costs like wages, rents and business rates were factored into the childcare funding levels when they were originally set. All we are asking for is proof that this was indeed the case, and it is disappointing that we were forced to appeal to the ICO in order to obtain this information.

“We hope that the DfE will now make this information available to us without any further delay.”

The ruling marks the second time the ICO has ruled in favour of the Alliance in an FOI dispute with the DfE. 

Back in February 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) was forced to publish research on the cost of delivering childcare it had commissioned to Deloitte following an ICO ruling.

The publication revealed that the research was based on what the Alliance’s described at the time as “a very small, non-random sample of providers who have been presented with a set of very broad, poorly-worded questions asking them to estimate their delivery costs, with no specific guidance as to what these estimates should include.”

ENDS

 

Editor notes

 

  • 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.
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