This Government has delivered an unprecedented package of measures to improve access to high quality and affordable childcare. Investment in the sector has increased by 138% over the past five budgets. This investment has helped to bring about a doubling of capacity and a doubling of the number of children receiving State subsidies. However, I recognise that there are continuing capacity issues in parts of the country. Pobal data has shown a vacancy rate of 4% across all services, but these vacancies are not necessarily in the localities where parents are seeking childcare places.
Staff of 30 childcare committees across the country can provide practical assistance to any parents who have difficulty finding a service. Their contact details can be found at myccc.gov.ie. I am committed to further increasing the capacity of sector and I will be launching a capital grant programme for 2020 shortly. I will be inviting providers to apply for grants to expand capacity where demand exists. I also ensured that the national development plan committed €250 million for the expansion of high quality childcare. This funding will come on stream in 2023 and will provide a significant opportunity to develop further capacity.
Many parents opt for home-based or childminding provision. To this end, I have recently consulted on a draft action plan for childminders which, when finalised and implemented, will see increased capacity in that part of the sector also.
With regard to affordability, I am aware that this is a concern for many parents, particularly in the Deputy's constituency, which has the highest childcare costs in the State, as the Deputy has identified. I am very pleased that the national childcare scheme has now been commenced. It provides significant financial support to parents for childcare expenses. It provides subsidies on a sliding scale, so those who need most help will receive the highest subsidies.
In addition, I have recently established an expert group to examine the current model of funding for childcare, its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services. One of my key objectives since becoming Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has been to address the affordability and availability but I recognise that this is an ongoing agenda, with more to be done.