Posted: Wed 22nd Mar 2023

First Minister and Welsh Conservative leader clash over expanding free childcare in Wales

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Mar 22nd, 2023

A heated debate over free children provision in Wales has broken out between the first minister and leader of the Welsh Conservatives. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mark Drakeford and Andrew RT Davies clashed during Tuesday’s First Minister’s Questions after the leader of the opposition asked whether the Welsh Government will expand free childcare for those aged between nine months and two years. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It comes after UK Government Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled his spring budget for 2023. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

One of the headline announcements included a major expansion of free childcare in England. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It will see free childcare of 30 hours per week to parents with children aged from nine months to three years, though this will only apply to households where both parents are working. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

This is aimed at providing greater support to parents who want to work but may struggle to afford childcare. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The Welsh Government currently provides 30 hours free childcare to eligible parents and guardians of three and four year olds. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Wales is also rolling out a phased expansion of its childcare offer to two-year-olds as part of a Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Andrew RT Davies argued that “it is a realistic proposition that people want to see delivered here in Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies

He said: “You’re getting the consequentials for the moneys that are being spent in England. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“What people want to know is: will there be a universal childcare offer for one and two-year-olds that will capture people that do not benefit from that 30 hours of free childcare? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“You actually have the money coming to you to do that. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“A simple answer could have been, ‘Yes, we will deliver it, and people across Wales will enjoy this benefit.’ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Time and time again, for ideological reasons, you choose not to bring best practice here to Wales, such as the stamp duty and the land transaction tax: £425,000 in England is the starting point for stamp duty; £225,000 is the starting point for land transaction here in Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The first minister hit back at the comments stating that England is playing “catch up with services that are already available here in Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Drakeford added: “Here’s a simple answer for the leader of the opposition: we will invest £70 million in capital investment in this sector, so that it can grow and take more children into childcare. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“There is not a penny piece, not a single penny piece, in the Chancellor’s announcement of capital investment in the childcare sector in England. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We will provide 100 per cent rate relief for the sector here in Wales: £10 million in rate relief to support the sector. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“There is not a penny piece in rate relief for the childcare sector in England either. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We will introduce an extra 2,500 places for two-year-olds in Wales from April of this year, and another 4,500 new places for two-year-olds in phase 2 from September of this year. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“When you add those two figures alone together, we are already—already—promising to do three times as much as the Chancellor is promising to do in England on a proportional basis. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“That is what we are doing in Wales. I’m not copying anybody else; this is devolved Wales where we make our own decisions. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“And the decisions we are making will do far, far more for far, far more families, and not on an aspirational basis, not on the basis that this may happen, some time in the distance when you know you won’t be in power, we will be doing it in this Senedd term, with the money and the determination that this Senedd provides for it.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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