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More than a quarter of childcare providers fear they won’t survive the year

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MORE THAN a quarter of childcare providers say they will not survive the year due to funding rates failing to keep up with costs, a committee warned.

Jenny Rathbone, who chairs the Senedd’s equality committee, highlighted an Early Years Wales survey which raised the sector’s concerns about financial sustainability.

The Cardiff Central MS said while 72% of providers were confident they would survive for one year, that means 28% feared for their immediate future under the current model.

Ms Rathbone warned of a “falling-off-a-cliff” scenario with 80% of providers saying they did not think they would survive two years and only 9% confident of surviving the next five.

Calling for a rapid review, Ms Rathbone warned: “Any increase in funding would only come in the next financial year. So, where does that leave these people?”

Buffy Williams, a fellow Labour backbencher, said almost all providers want the hourly rate of childcare offer funding to be reviewed annually or linked to inflation.

She raised evidence to the committee that the current £5 rate – which was initially set in April 2022 – is unsustainable and risks the viability of a large number of childcare providers.

Jayne Bryant, who is new in post as early years minister, said a three-year cycle aligns with the budget-setting process but she would be open to reviewing the vital rate more regularly.

Acknowledging the fragility of the childcare sector, she said: “I do recognise that for some providers this really does mean that they’re operating very close to the financial wire.”

Ms Bryant confirmed any rate change would not come into effect until April 2025, stressing that budgets are tight and decisions must be based on robust evidence.

Clare Severn, the Welsh Government’s head of childcare and policy, warned that childcare settings in Wales face “really, really tough times”.

She said: “The national minimum wage has really impacted on childcare settings.

“The increase in the actual wage as well as the change to the age at which people are entitled to the national minimum wage has really fallen hard on the childcare sector.”

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, who was a social worker for 27 years, raised concerns about inadequate provision across Wales for disabled children.

Sharing her concerns, Ms Bryant pointed to the additional support grant, which aims to ensure that all children have equal access to the Welsh Government’s childcare offer.

Pressed for a timeline on proposals for professional registration of the workforce, Ms Severn stressed the need to tread carefully, suggesting the reforms are at least two to three years off.

Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams highlighted evidence from the Bevan Foundation and Oxfam Cymru that most parents believe childcare is completely unaffordable.

Ms Bryant told the committee a universal childcare system remains the ambition, with a wider vision for a fully integrated early childhood play, learning and care system.

Quizzed about the expansion of the childcare element of the Flying Start programme, the witnesses said five councils are lagging due to recruitment and retention challenges.

Responding to the Bevan Foundation’s calls for a more cohesive childcare offer, Ms Bryant agreed it is important to make it as easy as possible for parents to understand entitlements.

Carolyn Thomas, who represents North Wales, echoed the Wales TUC’s calls for a childcare forum to tackle low pay and the undervaluing of a predominantly female workforce.

The Labour MS highlighted suggestions that standards and benchmarks relating to the workforce could be used as a condition of funding in future.

Ms Bryant suggested Wales could follow Scotland in attaching requirements in relation to pay and staff development, particularly a commitment to the real living wage.

Giving evidence as part of the committee’s follow-up inquiry after a 2022 report on childcare, she said she will shortly be launching a review and refresh of the ten-year workforce plan.

Pressed for her priorities, the early years minister listed the first 1,000 days in a child’s life, workforce challenges and equal access to childcare for disabled children.

Politics

Welsh budget timetable ‘stifles scrutiny’

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THE CHAIR of the Senedd’s finance committee criticised Welsh Government plans to once again publish the draft budget just days before the Christmas recess.

Peredur Owen Griffiths raised concerns about publishing the draft spending plans for next year on December 10 – shortly before Senedd members go on holiday for three weeks.

The Plaid Cymru politician sympathised with the Welsh Government’s position about a lack of clarity on the budget settlement from Westminster.

But Mr Owen Griffiths challenged claims there is “no better alternative” in the current circumstances to publishing the 2025/26 draft budget on December 10.

He said the timetable does not sufficiently take into account concerns raised by Senedd committees after scrutiny of this year’s draft budget which made steep cuts to services.

In a letter to Wales’ finance secretary, dated July 11, Mr Owen Griffiths said: “Several committees called for more time to be made available to scrutinise the draft budget.

“We agree that the shortened timescales last year made it extremely challenging … to meaningfully assess the impact the draft budget has on policy areas within their remit.”

The former bank manager, who represents South Wales East, called for further justification on why a longer scrutiny window was not considered.

Mr Owen Griffiths said this would be highly beneficial, allowing committees to hold more evidence sessions on the draft budget this side of Christmas.

He stressed that the finance secretary is ultimately responsible for setting the budget and the proposed timing of the draft budget is within the Welsh Government’s gift.

Mr Owen Griffiths said uncertainty on the settlement must be balanced with the magnitude of the Senedd’s task in scrutinising spending plans.

He warned: “Detailed scrutiny which meets the needs and expectations of … the public at large cannot be achieved under the proposed timetable.”

He welcomed the Welsh Government’s willingness to revisit the proposed timetable once the UK Government’s budget date is known.

Mr Owen Griffiths criticised ministers for failing to adhere to a two-stage budget process.

He wrote: “We find it regrettable that you are proposing circumventing the process again this year – the sixth year in a row that this has happened.”

Mr Owen Griffiths called for ministerial evidence papers to be published alongside the draft budget – a point not addressed in the finance secretary’s letter on the timetable.

Rebecca Evans said she considered publishing an earlier draft budget, based on indicative figures, which would need to be revised once the settlement is clear.

But she warned this would not provide enough certainty.

She wrote: “We are, once again, obliged to recognise that the only prudent choice is to work on the basis that our settlement will be announced during the autumn term.

“And to follow a budget timetable akin to that employed in recent years, where we publish our draft budget close to the Christmas recess.”

Ms Evans said the Welsh Government will provide a firm timetable once the UK Government makes an announcement on its budget.

She told Senedd members the plan is to publish the final budget on February 25, 2025.

The finance secretary, who was appointed six years ago, wrote: “We are committed to ensuring the fullest possible scrutiny of our spending proposals.

“As a result, the timetable I have set out would enable seven weeks and four days for scrutiny of the draft budget, including four sitting weeks and four days.”

Ms Evans stressed that the timetable is driven by external factors “beyond our immediate control” and there is no currently better alternative.

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Proposal to give firefighters a council tax discount to go to Cabinet

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PEMBROKESHIRE on-call firefighters could enjoy a reduction in council tax “in recognition of the vital work performed” by them if a call is backed by senior councillors.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, a Notice of Motion submitted by Newport and Dinas county councillor, and leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy was heard.

Cllr Murphy’s call stated: “There is currently a significant and severe shortage in suitable applicants coming forward to be on-call fire fighters (retained) for the Mid & West Wales Fire Service.

“Currently there are vacancies for on-call fire fighters at all fire stations throughout the region, which impacts considerably upon the safety of both residents and visitors who may need the assistance of the Fire Service. Pembrokeshire is heavily reliant on our on-call firefighters.

“In recognition of the vital work performed by our on-call fire fighters (retained not full time employees of the service) and to encourage others to consider undertaking this vital role within our communities this Notice of Motion proposes that Pembrokeshire County Council offers every retained fire-fighter working and living in Pembrokeshire a 10 per cent reduction in the council tax they pay after achieving a qualifying period of service annually, to be determined by the Chief Fire Officer.”

At the July 18 meeting, members agreed Cllr Murphy’s call be considered by the council’s Cabinet at a later date.

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Newly elected Labour MP reveals how she was raped, age 15

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NEWLY elected Labour MP Natalie Fleet has bravely revealed how she was raped at the age of 15.
In a harrowing GBNews.com interview to be broadcast this Sunday (July 21), Ms Fleet says she still has “weekly nightmares” about what happened two decades on from the attack.
After being raped, Ms Fleet fell pregnant but says the daughter she gave birth to is now the “love of her life”.
Sitting down with GB News’ Gloria De Piero in an exclusive interview she explains that she’s decided to speak about what happened because the actions of her attacker – who told her to have an abortion – were “not ok”.
Ms Fleet also fears many women are suffering and unable to get the support they need.
That’s why she plans to use her platform in Parliament to use her teenage experiences, which also saw her spent a period homeless, as a catalyst for change.
Reflecting on what happened to her two decades ago, Ms Fleet, now a mother-of-four, said: “Today, 23 years later, I look back and I think, it wasn’t ok. That was an older man. I didn’t know we were having unprotected sex. I was a child and (it) is statutory rape. At the time this isn’t something that we were talking about. It’s not how I saw myself. I still have weekly nightmares about it.
“I have a huge privilege and advantage to be in Parliament and I’m thrilled to be here. But what happened in my childhood still has a massive impact on me, which is why I’m so excited about what the next Labour government is going to do.
“At 15, you definitely think you’re old enough to do all these things. I wanted to give my daughter the best life. But another thing that I can do now I’m in Parliament is I want to be a voice for all of those people, all of those women that have children in far from ideal circumstances.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about where my daughter came from and about what happened. It was really difficult for me to say to her, ‘I don’t think this was entirely consensual, and I think I might have been groomed, and I don’t think this is an appropriate relationship’. She took it really well. I Googled in advance f0r some tips, just a fact sheet or ‘how to deal with this’ and I found nothing.
“I found absolutely nothing. I found there were fact sheets about rape being used as a war crime. But there was nothing else. There’s no acknowledgement that it happens in the UK. And the more research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are over 3,000 conceptions every year from rape. But there’s no charity to support those women.
“There’s no help, advice, or support helpline that you can go to. No help on ‘how do I tell my child, that I love, that is everything to me, that this is where they came from?’”
Explaining why extra support in this area is so desperately needed she continued: “It is biologically very clear what happened to me because I was 15 years old, and he was older. I can prove where she came from, so that’s statutory rape. But there are so many women that this happens too who don’t speak about it.


“They dare not speak about it because they know they won’t be believed. And then even if by some miracle, we move to a society where women are believed, once you say this is your child, then that man can come and have access to that child.
“Even if you prove it’s rape, that man can have access to that child and help bring it up. And that’s absolutely terrifying. This is a perpetrator that has hurt the mother, who can then have access to the child.
“He told me to have an abortion at the time. He’s never met her. He never wanted anything to do with it. And he was very dismissive. He told me many times that he knew lots of ways that he wouldn’t have to pay a penny towards her, because all his friends had already evaded the CSA.”
Describing the relationship she now has with her daughter, Ms Fleet said: “So she’s 23 now and is the absolute love of my life. I am so proud of everything she is. I am thrilled. She makes me proud every single day. But at the time, when I was 15, I felt full of shame and guilt and responsibility. And all I was determined to do was make sure that she had a life that was as good as she would have had to any age parent. That was what I was determined to do.”
Outlining how she plans to use her role as an MP to push for change, she said: “I am a product of the last Labour government. It wasn’t a perfect Government, but it changed my life and it was transformational. When I was younger, things were tough and I had a Labour government.
“When we were homeless, the Labour government made sure that there was enough housing stock for us to be rehoused. And then when I had my first child at a very young age, I could send her to a Sure Start nursery. I could carry on, go to university with a first in the family scholarship.
“I could work in a minimum wage job. I could send my children because I’d got two by then, to a Sure Start nursery, and it just felt like I needed the support of the state. And my God, I got it.
“And, before I became an MP, I worked for a trade union and I was absolutely desperate to give back to my teachers. My teachers had invested in me. The Labour government made sure that my teachers had time to teach me and look after me, and I then saw that I was paying taxes and they weren’t being invested in young children like me or teachers. That’s why we needed a new Government?”
“On my estate, the estate where we were rehoused, I looked around and people struggled. And I see now there are people that I was close to when I was younger who are now suffering with addiction and poverty scars.
“What poverty has done to me has meant that I work and work and work and work and work. If somebody knocks on my door, I won’t answer it because I’m still scared it’s the bailiffs. That’s what happens to you in your childhood, it stays with you. In areas of Bolsover it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
“But I could either be angry about what’s happened over the past 14 years, sad and feel powerless, or I could come into Parliament and try and do something about it. I mean, what an honour.”

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