Child care provision has been at the forefront of the Government's social agenda.
Recently my colleague, Deputy Harney, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment addressed a seminar entitled Employer Supported Child Care: Exploring the Benefits to Business. It was organised by Mayo County child care committee. Her address outlined the main elements of the Government's efforts to address the need for a work-life balance, especially in relation to child care provision, and I have included the main points of the address for the Deputy's information: in response to the issue of increased demand for quality child care, the Government has provided, with EU assistance, significant funding to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to support child care for parents in employment education or training through the Equal Opportunities Child Care Programme 2000-2006; the subject of child care for working parents is being considered by a partnership sub-committee which has been established under Sustaining Progress; and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is actively involved in furthering the work-life balance agenda at the level of the enterprise. The Department chairs the national framework committee for work-life balance policies that comprises representatives from IBEC, ICTU, the Equality Authority and a number of Departments. The role of the committee is to support and facilitate family friendly-work-life balance policies through the development of a package of practical measures that can be applied at the level of the enterprise. The committee published research on this subject last year.
The child care requirements of parents can vary significantly depending on their personal circumstances and work patterns. It is unlikely that workplace based child care arrangements alone would meet the needs of parents. In a recent quarterly national household survey parents did not express an overwhelming preference for a particular alternative to their present arrangements although the most popular alternative chosen was a centre based service both for the pre school and the primary school child.
The child care sector is the focus of significant investment under the Equal Opportunities Child Care Programme 2000-2006. It is a core element of the Government's child care strategy.
The programme aims to address the child care needs of parents who are working or who are engaged in training and education activities by increasing the number of quality child care places available throughout Ireland. It provides capital grant assistance to community-not for profit organisations and to private child care providers to increase the supply of child care places or enhance the quality of existing places and staffing grant assistance grants to community based-not for profit organisations which have a focus on meeting the child care needs of disadvantaged families.
To date €218 million in funding was allocated to child care facilities in the form of capital grants to private providers and capital and staffing support grants for community based-not for profit groups. It is estimated that it will provide for the creation of an estimated 29,000 new child care places and will support over 27,000 existing child care places.
Further measures on child care are being provided in a number of different ways. I have outlined a few examples for the Deputy's information. In 2001 the Department of Finance allocated €12.7 million capital expenditure for the provision of up to 15 Civil Service crèches for the children of parents who work in Departments. Four crèches are already in operation with a further two due to open in late 2004. Proposals for additional crèche are being considered.
In March 2001 the IDA launched a scheme to provide for the creation of high quality, workplace child care facilities in IDA Ireland business parks around the country. In October 2003 the Tánaiste announced the provision of five new high quality child care facilities in selected IDA business parks. Two of the facilities have opened with the remaining three due to open later this year. It is intended that these facilities will cater for over 450 children.
Since the start of 2002 the city and county enterprise boards have approved funding of over €1.3 million to 130 child care enterprises across the country. The funding comprises mainly staffing grants with a small number of capital grants available. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Finance has made available a number of tax reliefs for child care facilities. Their purpose is to help increase the supply of affordable child care places. Capital allowances are available for capital expenditure on the construction, extension and refurbishment of a building, or part of a building — or the conversion of an existing building — that is used for the purpose of providing a pre-school service, day care or other child care facility. The premises must not include any part of a building in use as, or as part of, a dwelling. There is also an exemption to the usual benefit-in-kind provisions for employees who enjoy free or subsidised child care facilities provided by their employers. In such circumstances, the employer must be wholly or partly responsible for both financing and managing the child care facility.
The subject of child care for working parents, with particular emphasis on the feasibility of establishing workplace child care arrangements, is being considered by a partnership sub-committee that was established under Sustaining Progress. The purpose of the sub-committee is to consider how to improve the availability of quality child care for working parents and how the supply of pre-school and after-school child care places can be accelerated. Officials of my Department have already had meetings with IBEC and ICTU to consider these issues.
With reference to the recent survey of parents conducted by the manufacturers of Calpol, less than 14% of respondents to the survey identified the cost or lack of child care facilities as an important issue.
The programme for Government and the progress of my Department's equal opportunities child care programme are confirmation of the Government's commitment to developing and reviewing child care services and to keeping child care at the forefront of its social agenda. The outcomes of the present programme will be monitored closely to inform the forward planning process in order to support the twin needs of quality child care provision and labour market supports.