I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 86 together.
I am committed to ensuring that early learning and care and school age childcare is affordable, accessible and of a high quality. As the Deputy is aware, good progress has been made in this regard, with an increase in investment in this area of 117% over the past four budgets (increasing from €260m in 2015 to nearly €574m in Budget 2019).
Within these four budgets, a significant amount of exchequer funding was made available for childcare providers, whether private or community / not for profit organisations, to apply for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare capital grants. Capital funding is aimed at increasing the capacity of existing services, creating new services, and maintaining and improving existing services.
Each year my Department reviews the capital programmes as a whole and determines the priorities for Early Learning and Care and School Age Capital grants. This consideration necessarily has regard to many factors, including the financial resources available.
In 2019, my Department focused the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare Capital programme on the expansion of early learning and care places for 0-3 year olds, and school age childcare places where this is most needed.
The capital strands have been made available to achieve the strategic priorities for 2019 as determined by my Department, having regard to the funding available. These were developed using analysis of the current state of the childcare sector, learnings from previous capital programmes and feedback and input from stakeholders, including childcare providers and Pobal.
The approved Early Learning and School Age Capital funding for 2019 was made available to childcare centres, crèches and other childcare facilities across three strands, as follows:
Strand A (Early Learning and Care): New places for 0-3 year olds
- €3.7m total approved (€50k max. grant)
- 87 applications approved for funding
- 1,321 new 0-3 places to be created: 205 0-1 places, 1,116
(Early Learning and Care): Fire safety improvements (community only)
- €0.3m total approved (€15k max. grant)
- 33 applications approved for funding
(School Age): New places for school age children
- €2.2m total approved (€20k max. grant)
- 118 applications approved for funding
- 2,308 new school age places to be created.
The capital funding has been awarded following the completion of a very competitive application and appraisal process.
Pobal have notified all applicants of the outcomes of the Capital decisions.
In addition to the annual capital programme, I negotiated that childcare be identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan (2018-2027). €250m in capital funding was secured for childcare under the Plan. This represents the kind of large scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been seen since the National Childcare Investment Programme (NCIP) that concluded in 2010.
This investment will be essential to respond to the increased capacity we expect as the new National Childcare Scheme is introduced. The NCS will radically change how this country supports the cost to parents of early learning and care and school age childcare.
Research is on-going to determine areas of specific need that the NDP funding will address when it comes on stream in the coming years. The exact shape and priorities of this funding is currently being developed and information will be made publicas it becomes available.