Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (3)

Anne Rabbitte


3. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the affordable child care scheme will be launched by September 2019; and the status of the delivery of this scheme. [9072/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

I ask the Minister if the affordable child care scheme will be launched by September 2019 and the current status of the delivery of the scheme.

I am pleased to say we are making good progress in preparing for the delivery of the affordable child care scheme. As the Deputy is aware, I reported on the matter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on 24 January 2018 and our work continues intensively.

The introduction of the affordable child care scheme is dependent on the development of a supporting information technology, IT, system. The request for tender for the IT system has been published but until such time as an IT developer is in place and agrees a delivery timeframe, it is not possible to confirm and communicate a definitive start date for the scheme. However, for the purposes of planning and procurement, the scheme's project team has produced estimated target dates, which are set out in the published request for tender.

These dates involve the system being available to accept applications from the end of May 2019, with subsidies being paid from September 2019. I am committed to updating Deputies, the public and child care providers regarding the expected timeframe as the project progresses. It is important to note in the interim that enhanced child care schemes and subsidies introduced last September will remain in place.

The Government delivered on its commitment to make child care more affordable from September 2017 by introducing these enhanced measures. Currently, over 67,000 children, that is 96% of estimated eligible children, are benefitting from these measures, which include both universal subsidies for children under three and targeted subsidies for those on lower incomes or in training. The door remains open for more families to apply. In other words, many of the immediate benefits for parents of the affordable child care scheme have been fast-tracked without compromising on the rigour and time needed to develop and launch this major new scheme.

Alongside the development of the affordable child care scheme IT system, we continue to make good progress on other elements of the affordable child care scheme. For example, the Childcare Support Bill has completed Second Stage in the Dáil.

When I reported to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on 24 January last, I noted that the full affordable child care scheme would mark a radical redesign of the legal and technical infrastructure underpinning our support for child care in Ireland.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Zappone, for her response. It is welcome to hear good work is going on behind the scenes. It is important as well to acknowledge that ICT at the very beginning, before the affordable child care scheme, was always under pressure within Departments. When we added extra Departments it of course put on extra pressure. The Minister has outlined certain timelines. However, the timeline regarding the delivery of ICT concerns me. If we do not have that timeline in place, while the legislation is working its way through, I cannot see how this will work seamlessly for the providers in September.

That also sets another red flag for me. I do not wish to be a doomsayer, but if it is not sorted out with a proper timeframe that would indicate to me it may not be ready for delivery in September 2019. When I think back, it was disappointing the pressure child care providers were already under in August 2017. The Minister did put in hours to support them in respect of time worked in their offices. However, it is nearly two years since the affordable child care scheme was launched and, unfortunately, I am still waiting to hear that it will be ready to go for September.

As the Deputy can appreciate, I also share her concern on the timeframe and continuing to move it forward. We agree on that. We are now in a tender process in respect of development of the ICT system. We expect to identify a successful vender to commence the development of the system. It will take approximately 25 weeks so that will bring us to July. We hope that will put us in place. If we manage that it will bring us on time in that regard.

However, as I indicated earlier, it will only be after we appoint a company or organisation to develop the system that we will be clear on confirming when we can deliver the affordable child care scheme. As soon as I know that, the Deputy and her colleagues will be the next to know.

Let me be clear I have understood the Minister correctly. There is a 25 week process for the successful tender. It is from then a company is appointed to design and deliver the system from July. I live in the real world, as does the Minister. I am a realist. That tells me it will be the end of July, possibly, and more than likely we will not have an ICT system up and functioning for 21 August and the roll out of the affordable child care scheme. The tenders will only be coming in at the end of July. Is that correct?

That was going to be my third point. I think I referred to this earlier. As of September 2018, the current procedures for applications from parents and working with providers will be the same as 2017. That is not the fully formed affordable child care scheme we are all waiting for. As I have emphasised before, providers have done an incredible job working with us in order to put in place and fast track interim measures to ensure a huge percentage of our families and children are benefitting from the subsidies that we announced. We have made an effort to compensate the providers for that.

I thank the Minister and Deputy for adhering to the time limits.