DfE must publish data on funding rates
By Rachel Lawler
The Department for Education (DfE) has been ordered to publish the information it holds on how the current early years funding levels in England were calculated.
The ruling follows a long-running dispute between the DfE and the Alliance, which filed a request for the data under the Freedom of Information laws in December 2018. The DfE had initially refused to publish it, arguing that the information formed part of its policy development and that the need to keep it private outweighed any public interest in releasing it.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has told the DfE that it must publish the date before 14 November and warned that failure to comply may result in action for contempt in the High Court.
£662 million deficit
Current funding rates for the sector were announced in 2015 and came into effect in 2017. They were due to remain frozen until 2020. The government claims that these rates take into consideration the impact of cost increases in this time period.
The Alliance asked the DfE for information on how these increasing costs were calculated and was told it has a “spreadsheet, presentation and documentation”. The DfE rejected the request to publish this information, arguing that it formed part of its policy development work.
The Alliance then took the case to the ICO, which has rejected the DfE’s argument and ordered it to disclose the withheld information.
Early years research company Ceeda estimates that England’s early years sector is currently facing a funding deficit of £662 million.
Pressure on providers
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “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.
No more delays
“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.”