Ministers Accused Of "Lack Of Planning" By Forcing Childcare Into Levelling Up Bill
Ministers have been accused of a “lack of planning” after childcare reforms were tagged onto the already heavily loaded Levelling Up Bill ahead of its final parliamentary stages.
The Bill returned to the House of Lords on Monday to continue in its report stage, where amendments are voted on. The bill aims to set out the government's plans for achieving the so-called 'levelling up missions' pledged by Secretary of State Michael Gove last year and is designed to reduce regional inequality by 2030.
PoliticsHome has previously reported peers’ concerns about the wide-reaching nature of the bill, which covers numerous policy areas. Baroness Sue Hayman of Ullock, Labour’s spokesperson for levelling up in the Lords, said that ministers see levelling up legislation as a "catch-all bill" to which any number of policy areas can be added.
Now as it reaches its final stages, further amendments have been added to the Levelling Up Bill that, if accepted, would change the Childcare Act and make it possible for childminding businesses to be set up in non-domestic settings. Government officials believe the measures will help grow the childminding sector and give parents more childcare options. They believe that childminders can offer parents more affordable and flexible options compared to other types of provision.
Childcare has been a popular topic of discussion among MPs this year. At the Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced reforms to the sector that he said would “build a childcare system comparable to the best”. He had been under pressure from MPs on both sides of the House to make changes to the “complex” and “expensive” childcare system.
Childcare amendments were first added to the Levelling Up Bill on 4 July, ahead of the report stage in the House of Lords, the time in a bill’s passage when peers vote on possible changes to a bill.
Including the amendment at the late stage meant it missed the committee stage in the Lords throughout last spring, which involved “detailed line by line examination of the separate parts of the bill”. It also followed the committee and report stages in the House of Commons.
Baroness Kath Pinnock, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on levelling up in the Lords, told PoliticsHome that the addition of childcare amendments at this stage – while not "controversial" in content – shows “a lack of foresight” from ministers.
“It’s a very late addition to the Bill because it wasn’t flagged up when the Levelling Up bill was in the Commons, and it didn’t come to us until it was in report stage," she explained.
“The content of it doesn’t look too controversial, but nevertheless I think what it demonstrates is a real lack of foresight and planning by the government.”
Pinnock, who last week said that the Lords still had to see the most “contentious” parts of the legislation through the upper house before the report stage is expected to wrap up next week, thinks that the inclusion of the childcare changes in this way is “foolish”.
“[The government] knew it was part of the Budget statement, if it is, surely what you do as a government is work out how you’re going to implement it," she continued.
“Suddenly to shoehorn it into an already very large bill covering a very wide number of issues is foolish really because it won’t get the attention it deserves.”
PoliticsHome understands that with the number of childminders having declined in recent years, officials hope these measures could reverse that trend by removing barriers to registering childminding businesses.
As part of a wider package of childcare measures, including an expanded offer for free childcare, the hope is that these measures will mean parents and carers of younger children will have a greater availability of options.
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