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Minister defends ECCE pre-school scheme 'in crisis'

A minister has defended the government’s controversial funding model for pre-school childcare services as “a very good scheme”.

This is despite being told that more than 260 service providers are planning to quit the industry because of it.

Citing a recent survey carried out by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP), chair Elaine Dunne said the industry is in crisis because the funding model - when it comes in in September - won’t work.

Ms Dunne told the Saturday with Katie Hannon programme on RTÉ Radio One that more than 260 childcare providers are preparing to shut up shop due to a lack of adequate funding.

The figure comes from a survey of more than 1,000 early childhood providers on the government’s news core funding model for the wholly-State funded Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) system.

She said that despite a massive rise in costs over the years - especially in the past few months - the money pre-school providers get from the State for ECCE services per child has not kept pace with those rises.

But in answer to her demands and her criticism of the funding arrangements in place, Colm Brophy, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, said the funding model is “a very good scheme”.

Over 260 childcare providers are reportedly preparing to shut up shop due to a lack of adequate funding
Over 260 childcare providers are reportedly preparing to shut up shop due to a lack of adequate funding

He said ECCE funding was currently up to €221 million, up from an initial €207 million to account for rising costs.

As to the numbers planning to leave the sector, he said there was nothing to indicate this was out of the ordinary because people leave the sector all the time.

“There's a process whereby if you are withdrawing from providing service you have to notify the department,” he said.

“There's no significant increase in those numbers this year (that have) notified the department. “So I appreciate that there was a survey done, which indicates possibly what people’s intentions may or may not be.

“But my understanding is that the overall figures between last year and this year are roughly the same.

“People leave the sector.” He added: “I think 97% of people signed up to the new scheme.

“The new scheme contracts are going out, they are to be signed and I think we have the basis of a really good system here.” When pressed by Katie Hannon on the issue of people leaving the sector, he said the State will - in effect - just wait and see.

He said: “Let's see, when we get to September, where we are in terms of the places.

“I can only give you the information in the same way Elaine can only give you the results for the survey.

“I can only give you the information that's available in terms of whether or not people are formally leaving the system and the system doesn't show that level of an increase.

“There's nobody in the government that's not working and trying to make the system work with the providers.” 

Earlier, Ms Dunne said the new funding model has “failed” and added to this was the fact that it “is a disaster” trying to get staff to work in the sector.

When the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has today announced in March the rates and values for the new Core Funding Scheme, he described the scheme as "a significant milestone on the journey towards a new funding model".

He said its aim was to transform of the sector.