Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Questions (112)

Eric J. Byrne


112. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the position regarding the provision of crèche facilities (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44919/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In Budget 2001, the then Minister for Finance allocated €12.7m for the provision of 10-15 crèches for the children of civil servants. The allocation was part of a major initiative by the Government to improve childcare provisions and increase the number of childcare places available. The provision of childcare places was identified as an important mechanism for enabling women to participate in the labour force.

Seven crèches were delivered under the Civil Service Childcare Initiative (CSCI): two in Dublin (Mount Street and Marlborough Street) and one each in Backweston (Kildare), Athlone, Ennis, Sligo and Cork. My Department chairs the CSCI Board which is responsible for the oversight of the initiative and the licensing arrangements with the crèche operators. The Office of Public Works (OPW), the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Civil Service Unions are represented on the Board.

A Focused Policy Assessment (FPA) of the Civil Service Childcare Initiative was carried out by the Central Evaluation Expenditure Unit (CEEU) in my Department during 2012. The principal findings of the FPA were that there was no longer significant market failure in respect of the supply of childcare places by the private sector and that the removal of this State subsidy could result in savings to the Exchequer of over €600,000 per annum. On that basis, the assessment found that there was no longer any rationale for continued State support for the seven civil service crèches delivered under the CSCI and recommended that the State should end its involvement in civil service crèches in a structured and planned fashion.

The OPW was asked to examine the seven purpose-built crèche facilities, and, in consultation with the CSCI Board, they identified an interim arrangement to allow for a phased transition approach to June 2016 to facilitate a public procurement process for the provision of commercially based crèche services at these locations which would no longer benefit from the significant subsidy being proved under the CSCI.

In December, 2012, the crèche operators were informed by the Board of the findings of the FPA, and, that on the expiry of their current licence towards the end of 2013, the State would no longer subsidise or have any management role in the Civil Service crèches. The operators were offered an option to continue operating the crèche under a new interim licence for the transition period to June, 2016. The terms of the interim licence arrangements were the subject of negotiations between OPW and the operators. These include rental cost for the property to be paid by the operator as well as other costs such as maintenance and utilities costs which heretofore had been borne by the State. The interim licence also removes the restriction on the crèche to only accept children of public servants. The crèche operators were invited at the same time to start a process of communication with the parents regarding the changes. Once agreement on the interim licence arrangement was reached with the existing operators during the summer of 2013, the CSCI Board and OPW have been active in ensuring that operators inform parents of the new arrangements.

In view of these circumstances and the decision to discontinue the CSCI and the significant subsidy provided under it, the fees charged for the crèche services are strictly a commercial matter for the relevant operators, in respect of which I, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have no role or responsibility. With regard to the specific matters raised in the Deputy's question, I understand that notification issued to the parents on 10 October, 2013 advising parents of the new fee structure which is proposed to take effect from 1 January, 2014.