Ministers have backed down in the face of a cross-party push for childcare to be treated as an infrastructure issue like schools, GPs and public transport, meaning major housebuilders could be obliged to pay towards new childcare facilities.
The campaign was led by the Labour MP Stella Creasy, who argued that the issue of new homes being built without accompanying childcare was exacerbating a national shortfall in provision that has resulted in prices rising to levels unaffordable for many parents.
Ending a Commons debate on the levelling-up and regeneration bill, the levelling up minister Lucy Frazer said the government now accepted that childcare fell under the formal definition of infrastructure. This means childcare provision will qualify for money from a local infrastructure levy, which can be imposed on developers who are building new housing.
“The position is that childcare facilities, that is buildings including those that are not attached to schools, are included within the meaning of infrastructure, and they can therefore be funded through the levy,” Frazer told MPs. “In addition to that, there is the power in the bill already to regulate to allow for funding of services such as childcare.”
Creasy had tabled an amendment to the levelling-up and regeneration bill, which was in the Commons on Tuesday for the final part of its committee stage. Her amendment was signed by MPs from four parties, including several Conservatives. One of the Tory MPs was Robin Walker, a former education minister who now chairs the education select committee.
Creasy hailed the change of stance and pulled her amendment, but warned she would be watchful to see whether new money materialised.
“We have finally dragged the government into accepting that childcare is part of infrastructure and should be funded by local councils if they want to do so,” she said. “Now we need to make sure they don’t renege on the money desperately needed so that parents as well as potholes get the investment our economy needs.”
Walker, speaking in the Commons, told Frazer he also welcomed the government move, saying the levelling up bill could also reflect results from an upcoming inquiry into childcare by the education select committee inquiry when it goes through the Lords.
Research carried out in support of Creasy’s plan had shown that since 2014, in 116 of 149 English local authorities, the rate of population growth was greater than the growth of the childcare sector. This included 15 of the 20 areas with the highest population growth.
A shortage of childcare places has exacerbated other inflationary pressures, with the cost of provision forecast to go up by as much as 19% next year, prompting many parents to reduce how much childcare they use, or even give up work.