It was a poetic coincidence that the week the Labour party made its defiant last stand in Brighton, the newspapers reported a story that sums up precisely why this country so urgently needs another government. The case of the two policewomen who have been ordered by Ofsted to stop their sensible, reciprocal babysitting arrangement, under the terms of the 2006 Childcare Act, shows just how damaging Labour’s addiction to risk-averse legislation can be.
In this case, it has turned neighbours into vindictive sneaks — the WPCs’ babysitting deal was said to have been reported by an anonymous local with a personal grudge; and it has dissuaded two diligent mothers not just from working, but (they said) from having more children as well. Worst of all, the two young girls, the children this act purports to protect, are now less happy and less well-cared-for by strangers in a nursery.
Ofsted defends the Childcare Act by pointing out that not everybody has to check in with them to be a babysitter. Close relatives are exempt, it says. The tragic irony of this is that in the vast majority of cases — think of poor Baby P or Shannon Matthews — children are abused by exactly those family members Ofsted lets off the hook.
Perhaps the real reason for Ofsted’s insistence on the letter of the law is that in not registering themselves as child-minders, WPCs Jarrett and Shepherd avoided paying the watchdog an annual fee of £103.