I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 56 and 58 together.
I am glad to report that my officials and I are making good progress in the development of the Affordable Childcare Scheme. This development involves intensive work across legislative, ICT, administrative, governance and communications areas.
With regard to the legislative progress, the Childcare Support Bill has now passed all substantive stages in both the Dail and the Seanad, garnering cross party support in both Houses. I hope to conclude the final technical stage of seeking Dáil confirmation of amendments made to the Bill in the Seanad next week, with a view to enactment of the legislation by the end of the month.
The Childcare Support Bill will be underpinned by detailed secondary legislation and formal policy guidelines. Work is currently ongoing on both of these and also on the development of regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school age childcare services by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate. These latter regulations will be introduced in advance of the Affordable Childcare Scheme to allow services to register and thereby participate in the scheme from its inception.
With regard to the development of the ICT system, our work is subject to an independent peer review process under the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer to ensure that it is rigorous, robust and of the highest possible standard. Against a backdrop of detailed preparatory work, at the beginning of the year, I published a Request for Tenders for the development of the scheme's IT system. An evaluation of tenders received has now been completed, a preferred bidder has been notified and the contract negotiation phase is underway. This final contracting phase involves the agreement of a project implementation plan for the IT system which will set out timelines for its development, testing and 'go live'. Once this project implementation plan is agreed as part of the IT contract, I will be in a position to confirm and communicate a planned start date for the Affordable Childcare Scheme.
I am happy to say that good progress is being made too on the administrative, governance and communications areas.
Deputies may also wish to note that 76,000 children are now availing of childcare subsidies under the interim measures introduced in Sept 2017 in advance of the Affordable Childcare scheme itself. The target for these measures at the time had been 70,000 children.