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Childcare should be boosted

19 August 2002 - Regional Development Agencies should be placing a higher priority on boosting local available childcare, according to the TUC. RDAs are currently rewriting their regional economic strategies at the insistence of the Department for Trade and Industry and the TUC wants access to childcare to play a much greater role in the revised strategies.

RDAs already support productivity projects on workforce development, investment and R&D via direct and match funding. In many instances, RDAs act as a regional hub of social partnerships, so they are ideally placed to spread best practice, host awareness raising events, sponsor company projects and encourage SMEs in pooling resources.

TUC General Secretary, John Monks, said:

'Regional economic development is about creating the regional economy of the future, which means adapting struggling industries, developing workers skills and nipping problems in the bud before they slow the economy down. Local access to childcare is just the sort of issue that will damage our productivity and cause skill shortages if it is not prioritised soon. Lack of affordable childcare remains a headache for many working parents, particularly women. As a result, many women are not given the choice of returning to work, which drains valuable skills and experience from our economy.'

Government figures show major variations in the supply of and demand for childcare. Nationally, 47% of families say there are not enough childcare places. The following table shows the regional breakdown of families who think there are not enough places:

London - 52%
North East - 52%
Merseyside - 50%
Eastern England - 49%
South East - 49%
East Midlands - 44%
South West - 43%
West Midlands - 43%
Yorkshire and Humberside - 43%
North West - 43%

The cost of childcare also varies significantly between regions. Figures from the Daycare Trust say the typical weekly cost for a two year old is £120 for in a nursery and £113 with a childminder.

Region - nursery cost - childminder cost

Inner London - £149 - £144
Outer London - £146 - £136
South West - £118 - £113
South East - £133 - £133
Eastern England - £139 - £114
West Midlands - £103 - £101
East Midlands - £108 - £101
Yorkshire and Humberside - £99- £99
North West - £99 - £86
North East - £103- £96

The Work Foundation (formerly the Industrial Society) say the typical cost of replacing a member of staff on a salary of £15,000 a year is over £7,000.

One childcare project, at HSBC bank, has resulted in a saving of £18m a year. Before the project started, the number of women returning was just 30%, now it is up to 85%. UNIFI rep Julie Whalley said: 'This is a very popular scheme with our members. The only complaint we get is when it is oversubscribed.'

A Government commissioned poll showed:

- 5% of companies provide a workplace nursery

- 2% have reserved a nursery places scheme

- 5% make a contribution towards nursery costs

- 3% have after school clubs for employees' children

A Daycare Trust poll found:

- 8% of parents have employers who help with childcare

- 4% of parents receive financial help in paying childcare

- 17% of parents have employers who offer incentives to encourage mothers back to work after having a baby

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