Only around a dozen childcare providers have responded to a Government request to share extra financial information, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has told Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators.
Against a backdrop of protests outside the Dáil by providers who argue the Government’s funding model is forcing them to the brink of closure, Mr O’Gorman told the meeting that a lack of financial information made it more of a challenge when making a case for more funding in the budget.
“(O’Gorman) said that he has invited the providers to open their books and do a big deep-dive on their funding, and only 13 of them have come and said ‘here I am, I’m struggling’,” said one person present at the meeting.
It is understood that the Department of Children asked providers who are part of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) system to come forward and had commissioned a review to look at their books, which is being finalised – but that only 13 had come forward to date.
Childcare providers protested outside the Dáil on Tuesday, criticising the Government’s approach to funding the sector – primarily payments are under the Core Funding stream, a €287 million pot of money introduced in recent years and funnelled to providers who agree to freeze fees for parents.
Some providers closed their doors on Tuesday in a protest organised by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, which claimed hundreds of its members have closed their creches for three days to protest at Government policy and excessive red tape. Mr O’Gorman pledged to the meeting to cut through excessive bureaucracy, saying he had established a working group to undertake a consultation with the sector.
The meeting, which was organised by Mayo-based Senator Lisa Chambers, was widely attended by Fianna Fáil Senators and TDs, including Cork South West TD Christopher O’Sullivan and Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee. Two Ministers of State, Dara Calleary and Anne Rabbitte, also attended, as did Senator Malcolm Byrne and a swathe of predominantly rural backbenchers.
Mr O’Gorman told the meeting that his department was under significant expenditure pressures ahead of the budget, with a wide variety of portfolios. He said he appreciated the challenges facing smaller operators and would look at ways to make them more viable.
Sources present said there was “no tension” at what was a “mild-mannered” meeting, with some expressing scepticism about some of the messages they were being given by the childcare sector during lobbying for reform. “I think we need to take everything with a pinch of salt,” said one source present, who praised Mr O’Gorman.
Others present said that Mr O’Gorman was told that operators were being “squeezed” and that smaller and ECCE-only settings, which only open for hours paid for under the State-sponsored scheme, were particularly exposed.
He was told that capitation grants needed to increase and that reporting requirements were too onerous – with attendees emphasising the need to support small providers in rural areas in particular. He was also told that the fee freeze needed to be kept in place and costs needed to be reduced for families.
Earlier in the day Mr O’Gorman refused to reiterate a previous pledge that he would be pushing for a further 25 per cent cut in childcare costs after a similar cut last year.
“I achieved a significant cut in childcare last year – 25 per cent was my focus. I have indicated this year that I have a broader focus. I want to continue to reduce the cost of childcare for parents. But I want other parents to benefit from those reductions as well, for example parents who use childminders who are excluded from the National Childcare Scheme at present. I also want to broaden the access and inclusion model which allows children with a disability to access services.”