A tender document for a delayed information technology system to administer the Government's Affordable Childcare Scheme is 1,000 pages long, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said.
The scheme was announced in last year’s budget with the intention that it would bring down the cost of childcare in the State.
It was envisaged that parents would be able to input their income into a centralised computer system which would calculate what childcare supports they would be eligible for.
However, the implementation of the scheme at a national level has had to be put on hold because both the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare maintained that the IT system was in not place for them to share confidential information.
Ms Zappone told the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that the delay had occurred because the Chief State Solicitor's Office said it was not possible for the IT system to be installed through a framework agreement with an agreed provider. Instead, the process has had to go out to tender.
Ms Zappone said the request for tender (RFT) document has just been approved. It will take a few weeks for any potential bidder just to read because of the size of the document.
The Minister said that it was “absolutely critically important” that the IT system was got right so it could provide the “basis for generations of investment in childcare for Ireland”.
She anticipated that software developers would start working on the new system in July this year and that it would be up and running in May 2019 and available to parents the following September.
In the meantime, Ms Zappone said childcare institutions themselves will administer the scheme as announced in the budget. She said he had provided €18 million for them to do so and some 88 per cent of applicable childcare services had signed up to administer it.
Seas Suas, the representative group for private providers of childcare and early education, said it was dismayed to learn that its members will have to administer the scheme for another year.
Its chairwoman Regina Bushell said the administration of the scheme was putting pressure on childcare services where there was "already serious staffing shortage in the sector".
“We are ready and willing to work with the Department on this but there has been little recognition of the difficulties which we, as providers, are facing both in terms of the sustainability of our facilities and maintaining staff levels.”