Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (30)

Brendan Smith

Question:

30. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to introduce a new childcare capital grant scheme in 2018 to assist childcare providers to extend or provide new facilities in cases in which there is an identified need for additional places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25642/18]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Children)

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that there has been a capital grant scheme in 2018. One of the principal goals of the 2018 early years and school age capital programmes, as in previous years, has been to assist childcare providers in creating new additional places where demand for those exists. The decisions in respect of the 2018 capital funding programmes were delivered to providers on 1 June, following a thorough and impartial appraisal process overseen by my Department. A total of 398 individual services throughout the country have been offered funding as a result, to a total value of €6.87 million. A total of €3.87 million of that amount has been allocated for the creation of new early years places in 85 separate projects. This funding will result in the creation of a total of 1,950 new places nationwide - 697 of which will be for zero to three year-olds, and 1,253 of which will ECCE places. In addition, €750,000 has been allocated for the creation of new school age childcare places in 45 separate projects. This funding will result in the creation of 807 new places in school age services.

The 2018 capital programmes generated extraordinary demand within the sector. As a result, only applications of the highest quality were successful on this occasion. However, services that narrowly missed out on funding have been added to a short capital reserve list. Those will be considered for funding in the event that any of the successful applicants are not in a position to use their funding. I am pleased at the level of interest in developing early years and school age places. I would like to continue this type of capital funding in 2019 and beyond, in order that we meet the demand for places in the coming years. I will carefully consider the level and quality of sectoral demand for all strands of funding, as well as all constructive feedback on this year's programmes in the development of capital funding for 2019.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I welcome the recent grant approvals. In any grant scheme there will be some disappointed applicants.

In previous replies the Minister gave a commitment to have a widespread consultation with both community childcare providers and private childcare providers on the 2019 capital grant scheme. More grant aid is required to assist in the expansion of some existing childcare facilities. Some such facilities in my own area, particularly the community childcare facilities, need to literally double capacity to meet demand. I ask the Minister to try to put in place a scheme with larger-scale grant assistance to make it realistic, obtainable and feasible for community childcare providers in particular to extend and enhance existing facilities and meet the demand that exists in their localities. In a substantial town in my constituency, there is only one community childcare provider. It has to double its capacity and it is looking forward to the Minister announcing a scheme with larger-scale grant assistance later this year.

It is really important that the Deputy, and other Deputies, raise these issues with me. One of my absolute priorities is to ensure there are enough moneys for a capital provision in order to increase the capacity for the childcare infrastructure I am overseeing. The consultation and engagement with stakeholders is really critical, and I believe my Department does a very good job at that. I am very happy to take note of what the Deputy has said in terms of his particular area and projects there he wishes to represent, and we can engage further with him on that. However, the commitment to increasing the capital available is integral to my work as a Minister and that is why, in terms of the negotiations with the Minister for Finance on the national development plan, significant funding will be available as we move forward in terms of capital investment in childcare places.

I welcome the commitment to further consultation with private and community childcare providers made by the Minister. I have already made written representations to her office about specific concerns I have in my constituency and would be glad to take up her offer of a meeting to discuss those particular projects.