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Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 7:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to insert a few, carefully chosen words at the start of Clause 6(1), which outlines the new statutory duties on local authorities to secure the provision of sufficient childcare to meet the requirements of parents in their areas.
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At Second Reading and throughout Grand Committee, Members on all sides of your Lordships' House raised concerns regarding the resources to support the ambitions of the Government in this Bill. The Minister has informed us that by 2007–08 spending on early years provision and childcare will reach £1.8 billion, which is almost double the 2004–05 figure and presents an average real annual increase of 24 per cent.

A breakdown of this spending for early learning and childcare is as follows: £1.8 billion on Sure Start centres for 2007–08; £250 million on the transformation fund over two years, 2006-08; and £840 million over 2003-08 on extended services in schools. Of course we recognise that there is not an endless pot of gold. However, for the Government to ask local authorities to achieve so much is not realistic or fair. For example, the proposed funding for Sure Start breaks down to roughly £250 per child—not a huge amount, and not much at all when compared with the figure of just under £2,500 per child which was given in the first generous allocations between 1999 and 2002, and £1,300 per child, which was being spent in 2004.

The Explanatory Notes say:

The LGA has raised serious concerns and said that there is a question around whether the dedicated resources will be sufficient to carry out these duties effectively and in the manner that the Government envision. The LGA also raises concerns about the future sustainability of these resources and the Government's commitment to building on the gains being made.

The charity 4Children has estimated that in delivering the Government's own commitments, it is much more likely that funds in the region of £13 billion will be required by 2010-11. This is a doubling of the existing total government investment, including maternity support, early education, Sure Start and the childcare element of the working tax credit.

The Government tell us that the new duties in the Bill involve no new spending pressures on local authorities. Yet children's groups and the LGA have all stressed that, without extra investment, meeting these duties will result in making childcare even less affordable to parents or place additional and unacceptable pressures on council tax bills, particularly as some significant elements of the childcare strategy, where delivery is planned for 2008-10 are, I understand, as yet unfunded. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we on these Benches have considerable sympathy with the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. For far too long, the Government have been wishing extra duties and responsibilities of one sort or another upon local authorities, without also willing the resources to meet them. As the noble Baroness rightly said, the Explanatory Notes suggest that no new spending
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pressures will be put on local authorities, but it is in fact very clear that new pressures will arise and that the Bill contains new responsibilities. Although substantial extra resources have been given to local authorities to run the Sure Start programme, most of them are tied up and dedicated to the Sure Start programme, which is advancing very fast. While we are delighted to see that happening, it is also an extremely expensive programme.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I have spent a lifetime trying to deliver services in the statutory and voluntary sectors. When I read the Childcare Bill initially, I was excited by it. I was totally sceptical about the Explanatory Notes saying that it would have no impact on the financial needs of local authorities. I cannot square the needs that are expressed in terms of the provision that we are hoping to make with that phrase. Therefore, I add my concern to that expressed by the two noble Baronesses.

It is quite clear that the Government have put huge resources and commitment into childcare, and on that I congratulate them and stand with them. But there is a conundrum here, as there is in a number of services; you have only to look at the health service and the issues surrounding it. As you pour money into services, the demand for qualifications, training and better quality care becomes apparent. For a long time, my noble friend and colleague Lord Listowel has pressed the issue of training in this sector. I felt that I must raise it under this amendment as I could not see where else to do so. This is the conundrum. We still have one of the lowest levels of qualification for childcare workers in Europe. To improve that will require funding over and above what seems possible.

I do not feel critical of the Government generally in this; it is a reality about the public purse. But I do hope that the expectation will not be set in the outside world that every family will, by right, have a childcare place and then for that reality not to be provided and the local authority social worker or care worker being the one who actually has to take the rap for not being able to deliver the services on the ground.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness said.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we accept, as King Lear told us a long time ago, that,

and unless there are resources it will not be possible to deliver any of these services on the ground. However, significant additional resources have been put into the system in respect of under-fives provision, about which I will have a little more to say in a moment. I do not believe that we stand guilty of not seeking to provide very substantial additional funds to meet the need to provide additional services. We have put our money behind our commitments in this area.

However, in terms of the specific amendment moved by the noble Baroness, I draw the attention of the House to the current drafting of Clause 6. It states:
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I stress the opening words:

The requirement is qualified by the words,

which has the effect of enabling local authorities to consider—as indeed they must—their own resources when determining how or whether to secure particular childcare. The current drafting gives local authorities a proper discretion to balance their duties with their resources, but it does not give them a right to take no action at all to fulfil a childcare duty. I would have thought that that would be as the House would wish the position to be.

Local authorities' effective use of the resources available to them will of course be the key to the successful implementation of their duties, and the resources available are considerable. By next year, 2007–08, Sure Start spending will reach close to £1.8 billion a year, almost double the figure in 2004–05. As I said earlier, the resources available in respect of the commitment to free nursery provision for three and four year-olds has risen by 500 per cent since 1997. As part of the £1.8 billion, we have allocated funding to local authorities through the general Sure Start grant over the financial years 2006–07 and 2007–08 to help them prepare for the new duties placed on them in the Bill.

I also stress that local authorities have a strong track record in developing and managing the childcare markets. This builds on their pivotal position with regard to children's services under the Children Act 2004. Local authorities welcome the leading role that they are now playing. They recognise that they are much better placed than central government to understand and respond to local needs. The new duty in the Bill underpins that work and draws it together more strategically, formalising arrangements.

The total resources available for childcare in a local area are in any case significantly greater than just those of the local authority on its own. The noble Baroness referred earlier to the Prime Minister's remarks on 16 May. I am happy to quote more of those remarks, in particular his commitment which underpins what we will be discussing later in respect of the private, independent and voluntary sectors in the provision of childcare. The Prime Minister said:

I thought that the noble Baroness would welcome those words because they so clearly mirror what she has been saying to us all the way through these debates and which I have strongly been supporting.

Of course, the contribution made by those who support the voluntary and third sector is over and above the resources made available by the local
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authority. So the total resources available for childcare in a local area are significantly greater than just those of the local authority on its own.

Therefore, in view of the fact that we have already qualified the duty in Clause 6 to make it a duty to secure childcare so far as is reasonably practicable, I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press this amendment. If she added the additional words that she suggests, it would be possible for a local authority to do nothing whatever to improve the provision of under-five services in its area, and I do not think that that is something that she would wish to see.

4.30 pm

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