MPs have today warned the government may not be able to deliver on a set of promises designed to benefit working parents.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that there may not be enough childcare providers to fulfil the government's pledge of an additional 15 hours of free childcare a week to working families with three- and four-year-olds as planned by September 2017.
At present, three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 free hours of childcare per week. The report found that 94 per cent of three-year-olds and 99 per cent of four-year-olds took up a funded place in 2015.
Speaking with City A.M., chair of the PAC Meg Hillier warned that this would not only affect those parents who were keen to take advantage of the extra free hours, it would also create a "capacity issue" which would have a knock-on effect for those wishing to buy additional hours of care.
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"Whichever way you cut it, there's not enough places," Hillier said.
The PAC report also criticised the Department for Education for not making sure there were enough suitably qualified early years staff to meet demand while still maintaining high standards of care.
Hillier added that parents may have concerns about "stacking children high and teaching them cheap".
The PAC report discovered that confusion about free childcare entitlements was rife, with around half of parents with children under the age of four not sure of what help they could get for childcare costs.
In light of what it discovered, the PAC is urging the Department for Education to use its pilot of the new scheme, which will start this September, carefully, and to treat it as an opportunity to gauge whether providers are really capable of meeting the increased demand.
Hillier stressed that the PAC did not in principle oppose the plans and thinks that "it's great that childcare is on the agenda", rather it is "very concerned that this is a policy that sounds good but there are very big question marks whether this will deliver for working parents".
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
We are committed to supporting hardworking families and nothing shows this better than our landmark 30 hour free childcare offer. We have seen huge demand from local areas to take part in delivering that offer a year early, so we know childcare providers and local authorities want to help hardworking families too.