Controversial though her proposals to relax quotas for childminders and nursery staff may be, no-one disagrees with Liz Truss’ central mission to reduce the cost of childcare. The opposition know affordable childcare will form an important part of their 2015 offer, and have also been visiting countries such as Denmark to pick up some tips.
It’s also worth noting that Truss is only relaxing quotas in so far as childcare providers can take on one or two more children per staff member: a nursery worker will be allowed to look after four babies instead of three, and six under-fives rather than four. Similarly, a childminder will be able to look after two babies rather than one, and four under-fives, rather than three. Clearly each child brings a whole host of extra work, and Truss’ response to claims this will actually decrease standards is that childcare professionals will be better trained, better paid and better able to offer a higher standard of care, as in other European countries.
But where the real problem lies with this policy is that it was supposed to be part of the Mid-Term Review’s display of the two parties working well together. As has already been well-reported, the paint started to peel pretty early on this, with the childcare announcement – a personal priority for the Prime Minister – was delayed after squabbles in the Quad. Today’s announcement goes ahead without the tax break that was so heavily briefed ahead of the Mid-Term review. Initially there were reports that the Lib Dems had put their foot down on this because they didn’t want to back an initiative that supported middle-income families above those on low incomes. Truss said today:
‘I think it is the big thing, I think it’s so incredibly important, it hasn’t fizzled out.