I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am concerned to hear about any individual provider proposing to increase charges to parents at a time when the Government continues to support early learning and childcare to a significant extent. In view of the amount of State support, increases of this nature are just not justified at this time.
One of my key priorities is to achieve affordability of early learning and childcare. The programme for Government commits to substantially reducing fees charged to parents while supporting quality service provision. The Government has been strongly supportive of the sector. Particularly since the onset of Covid-19, we have provided substantial additional supports to allow services to operate sustainably throughout the pandemic, acknowledging that there are higher delivery costs and that many additional practical and financial challenges need to be met by providers. In addition to their being able to participate in my Department's funding schemes, all services can currently participate in the employee wage subsidy scheme. On average, that is meeting 50% of the normal operating costs of services. That is at a cost of €35 million each month.
I recognise that early learning and childcare services are private businesses. They are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees and contract conditions. I am aware that the provider mentioned by the Deputy has notified parents of the substantial increase in fees. Given the substantial additional supports allocated by the sector that the provider has availed of and the assurance that there is not going to be any sudden cliff edge in terms of the withdrawal of supports, I do not believe there is any case for an increase of this level at this time.
Looking to the future, my Department will be developing a new funding model for early learning and childcare that provides additional resources for services, subject to quality but also affordability. The expert group has been progressing this work since late 2019. As I mentioned to Deputy Funchion, I expect its report to be finalised in November.