Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ceisteanna (101)

Robert Troy


101. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will review the criteria for the capital grant programme 2014 to enable a wider range of child care service providers to access the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21154/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

The Minister's predecessor introduced a new scheme in regard to the capital grant programme 2014 earlier in the year. The scheme was quite restrictive in that it was only possible for community child care providers and community play schools to avail of the capital grant scheme. In light of the fact the scheme closed last Wednesday, would the Minister be favourably disposed to expanding the criteria for and eligibility of people who can apply for that scheme? Perhaps the Minister might be able to indicate the level of uptake of this scheme.

To date, a range of capital investment programmes have supported progress in improving the quality of early childhood care and education services provided to children, including the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, the National Childcare Investment Programme and the Early Years Capital Programmes 2012 and 2013.

Some €2.5 million capital funding is being made available in 2014 for community not-for-profit child care facilities and will be directed to the repair and refurbishment of buildings which were supported by large-scale funding under previous capital programmes. This funding is also intended to improve building energy ratings and support sustainability.

The State has a particular responsibility to protect the capital investment that has been made to date in the community child care sector. Community child care services play a major role in ensuring that disadvantaged and low income families have access to quality and affordable child care. The community not-for-profit services provide access to the community child care Subvention programme which is funded by my Department. Approximately €45 million is allocated each year to participating community services to enable them to deliver child care to disadvantaged and low income families at reduced rates.

Many community child care facilities were built with the support of significant State investment and many are now more than ten years old with consequent issues arising in terms of repair, maintenance and upgrade. These issues must now be addressed to ensure that quality child care services can continue to be provided at these facilities. In rolling out capital funding in the current year, it was decided to target the current scheme towards community not-for-profit child care services to ensure that these services are in a position to continue to provide quality services, in particular in areas of disadvantage, and also to protect previous State investment in this area.

In 2012 and 2013, it was possible to provide capital funding programmes which were not restricted to community not-for-profit facilities and for which a wider range of child care services providers were eligible. I do not intend to expand the criteria for the 2014 programme.

I raised the matter when the scheme was announced. At the time I highlighted the unfair and inequitable criteria set out in the scheme, as a result of which 70% of child care providers are ineligible to apply for the scheme. Regardless of whether we like it, 70% of child care providers are private and for profit. Some of the schemes are small and do not make large-scale profits but provide a service in communities where the State does not.

The Minister alluded to the State’s responsibility to support and protect previous investment. We also need to support and protect investment made by the private sector. Private sector child care services availed of large-scale capital grants and they need the support of capital grant schemes. The Minister might not have to hand the information on the uptake of the scheme to date, but perhaps he could forward it. I was informed that only 60 applications had been submitted at the end of April 2014, which appears to be very low.

If I do not have the information to hand I will forward it to the Deputy as early as possible. I refer to my initial response to Deputy Troy who seeks more capital investment and more money. He will be aware that between 2008 and 2011 his own party in government cut €384 million or 60% from the child care budget. It is a bit rich for him to come to the House and bemoan the lack of capital investment, having regard to the fact we all know capital investment and money across a range of Departments has been in very limited supply. Nevertheless, significant administrative work is under way by Pobal, on behalf of the Department, to implement the current programme. More than 200 applications currently require assessment. When work is completed later this year, we will review the position. I hope to be in a position then to announce a follow-on scheme which would be open to a broader range of providers. A commitment has never been given to undertake all strands of capital child care schemes every year or at the same time.

The tack has changed because in the past two years the Minister enabled all service providers to avail of the capital grants scheme, which he confirmed himself a few moments ago. One could ask why there has been a big change. Why is the Minister leaving 70% of child care providers out in the cold? That is what is happening. Given that there are more than 4,000 child care providers nationally, the figure provided by the Minister of 200 applications is quite low.

I have been told that Pobal has been encouraging private sector providers to submit an application under strand two to see how it goes case by case. It is either open to the for-profit sector or it is not. What way is that to conduct business if Pobal is suggesting people to submit applications, see how it goes and that it will adjudicate case by case? I accept the budget is restricted. I did not ask the Minister to make additional money available. I asked him to make the scheme fair and equitable for all.

If 70% of the scheme is left out in the cold, it is not fair to the private providers who have stepped in where the State has not provided child care facilities.

The Deputy is aware that as far as the capital funding for the current year is concerned we are targeting the scheme towards community not-for-profit child care services. I am sure the Deputy will agree the priority must be to ensure the continuation of the provision of a quality service, particularly in areas of disadvantage in the Deputy's constituency and beyond. I reiterate the fact that a commitment to opening up the scheme was never given. Notwithstanding this, I hope to provide access to all relevant providers to capital support at suitable intervals, having regard to the administrative and financial resources available. In this regard, the Deputy might be surprised to learn I expect to make an imminent announcement of further capital funding.

Question No. 102 answered with Question No. 100.