The annual Pobal early years sector profile is based on a survey of all services which participate in State-funded early learning and care and school age childcare schemes. The latest report, containing data from May 2018, indicates that while the sector is experiencing significantly increased demand, it is broadly meeting this demand nationally. I am, however, fully aware of the challenges many parents experience to access high quality and affordable places, particularly for younger children. This is why I have worked intensively with my officials to introduce a number of measures to address the situation.
The substantial increase in investment in childcare over the past four budgets has delivered a range of improvements, including a doubling of capacity in the sector for both ECCE and the birth to three years age group, but clearly more needs to be done. I am taking a number of steps to address capacity issues. I have provided €9.6 million in capital funding for the sector in 2019 to focus on increasing the number of places available.
My Department is also helping services to get ready for the forthcoming national childcare scheme. This capital funding, decisions on which will be published very shortly, is expected to produce approximately 1,300 new spaces for birth to three year olds and 2,300 new school age childcare places this year.
The national childcare scheme, which will be introduced later this year, will also be a major incentive for providers to expand capacity. The scheme will provide a progressive system of subsidies starting with the highest subsidy rates for children under one - up to €5.10 per hour - and the next highest subsidy for one and two year olds - up to €4.35 per hour.
As I have mentioned in responses to earlier questions today, I will publish a childminding action plan in the coming months that will set out the actions my Department will take to support more childminders to offer high quality and subsidised childcare.