Proposal relating to pre school-day childcare period now agreed

Written by on 30th January 2024

A proposal to charge for a period of childcare offered before the school day, having no effect on the universal access to free breakfast club, has been agreed by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council. The proposal was amended to introduce a two-tier payment system and a reduced cost for children who use the provision up to three days a week.

In November 2023, the Council’s Cabinet agreed to consult residents on the proposal, which was brought forward in response to the huge financial challenge facing the Council to set its 2024/25 Budget. The updated budget gap stood at £36.65m after the provisional Local Government Settlement for Wales in December 2023 – requiring all services to be reviewed to see how revenue savings can possibly be made.

Breakfast club is a statutory service that is free and open to all primary school age groups, from Nursery to Year 6. It is typically offered between 8.30am-9am each day, when pupils are given a healthy breakfast in school. The breakfast club service will remain unaffected under any proposal being considered.

Rather, residents were consulted on a new £1 daily charge for an informal period of childcare offered before breakfast club. The discretionary service is offered in schools, typically between 8am-8.30am. If agreed, the charge would be applied from the school spring term 2024 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Under the proposal, children assessed as eligible for Free School Meals were proposed to be exempt from the charge. The original proposal outlined that the charge would need to be paid for termly, at a cost rounded down to £60 for a full term. All income raised by the proposal will be ring-fenced and reinvested back into the Schools Budget as part of the 2024/25 Revenue Budget Strategy. The consultation ran from November 27, 2023, to January 8, 2024.

On Wednesday, January 24, Cabinet considered the feedback received from residents. In total, 1,351 responses were received via an online survey, along with 10 emails and letters. Face-to-face events were advertised by the Council and held at Rhondda Sports Centre in Ystrad, Llantrisant Leisure Centre, and Sobell Leisure Centre in Aberdare. Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee also took the opportunity to review the proposals on December 13, 2023.

Cabinet considered all responses, and agreed to implement the proposal with an amendment following a key theme raised in the consultation.

The amendment will introduce a two-tier payment system that retains the full £60 termly charge to access the childcare for up to five days per week – while also introducing a reduced £40 termly charge, which applies to children who access the service up to three days a week.

The consultation also sought views on whether any further exemptions should be provided above those children assessed as eligible for Free School Meals.

Cabinet also agreed that parents and carers will only pay for the first two children, living in the same household, who access the provision – with no charge applied for any further children from this household.

Following agreement by Cabinet on Wednesday, officers will now progress the amended proposal towards its implementation.

Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation, and the Welsh Language, said:

“These proposals were brought forward by officers in the face of the huge financial challenge facing the Council, to set a balanced budget for 2024/25 by March.

All councils in Wales are facing a similar task to bridge large budget gaps, due to economic factors that include the high level of inflation, the Cost of Living crisis, and pressures across vital services like schools and social services.

“In relation to additional childcare provided prior to free breakfast clubs, four other councils in Wales already charge for a similar service, and several others are currently considering it. It is important to add that breakfast club will in no way be affected by the change – it will remain free and universally available to pupils from Nursery to Year 6.

“Cabinet considered all of the feedback received – from residents in the online surveys, written correspondence, and face-to-face discussions at local events, and from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Members have agreed to proceed with the proposal in order to contribute an important budget saving – but also decided to make key alterations following the consultation feedback.

“Firstly, a two-tier payment system will be used, so parents whose children attend the childcare sessions for up to three days a week won’t pay the full £60 termly rate based on five days – they will instead pay a reduced fee of £40. Secondly, in addition to the exemption for pupils in receipt of Free School Meals, it is now agreed that households with multiple children attending the service will only be required to pay for a maximum of two pupils.

“These were important points raised by residents and I’d like to thank those who took part in the consultation, which has helped Cabinet make an informed decision on these matters. The amended proposal will now be implemented, with all of the additional income being ringfenced for the Schools Budget.”

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