I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 12 and 37 together.
A key priority for me, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is to support the early learning and care and school age childcare sector through the provision of capital funding where it is most needed. I have allocated significant funding in recent years for this purpose and for improving the quality of infrastructure nationwide. In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €9.6 million for the sector which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming national childcare scheme.
I have allocated €6.1 million of this funding for the 2019 early learning and care and school age childcare capital programmes. This funding will be delivered in three strands. A total of €4.23 million will be available under strand A, which will offer grants of up to €50,000 to early learning and care providers for the creation of new places for children from newborns to aged three where demand for these is clearly evidenced. I have allocated €875,000 to strand B, which will offer individual grants of up to €15,000 to aid community or not-for-profit early learning and care services in addressing fire safety issues. Finally, there will be €1 million for strand C, which will offer individual grants of up to €20,000 to school age childcare providers for the creation of new school age places where demand for these is clearly demonstrated.
The application window for the early learning and care and school age capital programmes opened on 25 February and closed yesterday, 27 March 2019. Applications will now move to the appraisal stage, which is undertaken by Pobal and overseen by my Department. Applications will be appraised using a fair process based on a number of criteria, including demonstration of need, value for money, capacity of the organisation, including compliance with scheme rules, project achievability, and socio-economic deprivation in the service's location. Grants will be allocated to applications of the highest quality. In accordance with the principles of fairness and equity, no funding will be earmarked in advance for any particular area in the country, but County Meath and other counties identified will be able to compete fairly alongside all other parts of the country.
Capital programmes are necessarily a budget limited exercise. The maximum grant size available under each of these strands has been determined to optimise what can be delivered by each grant and to maximise the number of providers and children who will ultimately benefit from the funding. Decisions on the award of capital grants are due to be delivered in June 2019, once the appraisal process has concluded.
I am also pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and to have secured €250 million in capital funding for childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large-scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the earlier national childcare investment programme 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 national childcare scheme, NCS, will radically alter how this country supports the cost of early learning and care and school age childcare. Research is ongoing in my Department to determine areas of specified need that the NDP funding will address when it comes on stream in the coming years.