I propose to take Questions Nos. 1643, 1644, 1650, 1651, 1656 and 1664 together.
As the Deputies will be aware, the factors impacting on the costs across delivery of services in any sector are complex and multifaceted. The cost to childcare providers is affected by many factors such as rates, rent, labour costs, and insurance amongst other things.
The cost to parents to access that childcare is decided by childcare providers taking account of these overheads.
Notwithstanding this, I am committed to ensuring that childcare is affordable, accessible and of a high quality.
The increase in supports I have provided from this month for the next programme year represents a major step towards accessible affordable quality childcare after decades of neglect and under-investment by successive Governments.
There are two supports being rolled out under the Community Childcare Scheme. These include universal non-means tested supports of up to €1,040 per year and enhanced supports of up to €7,500 per year to assist families to return to work, and/or training and education.
I am delighted with the strong response from the sector. The number of providers signing up to deliver the services increases daily.
My Department is monitoring the cost of childcare closely and will continue to do so. Initial research from a sampling of services shows that fee increases for full-term services delivering the Community Childcare Scheme (including CCS Plus) rose by €5.26 on average between this programme year (2017/18) and the previous programme year. By way of comparison the fees across all services delivering full-time childcare rose by €7.26 between 2015/16 and 2016/17 following a number or years of price stagnation.If over the coming weeks or months those percentage increases in fees by service providers were to rise then I will consider whether actions such as regulation or price capping is required for government schemes.
Towards meeting some of the administrative overhead, I announced in recent months payments totalling €3.5 million towards “non contact time” for all childcare providers who register for the enhanced childcare measures under the Community Childcare Scheme. These payments range from €28 per child for the universal scheme up to as much as €203 per child registered on the more targeted supports. This, in addition to €14.5 million that has been already paid to childcare services so far in 2017 in recognition of administration associated with ECCE and other schemes, provides for €18 million in "non-contact time" payments this year.
The payment of €18 million this year in non contact payments should ensure that the availability of the supports to make childcare more affordable should not be a reason for any increase.