PARENTS will soon have to pay £1 a day to access childcare provided alongside school breakfast clubs in Rhondda Cynon Taf despite hundreds of people opposing it.
The council’s decision-making cabinet on Wednesday, January 24 approved a two tier system which will see a £40 a term charge for three days a week and £60 a term for five days a week following feedback from the consultation and the breakfast clubs themselves will continue to be free.
The charge applies to the additional childcare element, which is available before the start of free breakfast clubs and would come in at the start of the spring term 2024 or as soon as possible after.
Children eligible for free school meals would be exempt from any charge and parents and carers would only pay for the first two children of primary age, living in the same household and using the service.
There were 1,351 responses to the consultation online survey and there were 10 emails and letters received by the council.
In total, 985 of those who responded (73%) disagreed with the proposal to introduce a charge for the additional childcare element of breakfast club with 254 agreeing (19%) and 106 saying they didn’t know (8%).
The council report said there was a general disagreement with the proposal due to reasons such as financial strain, impact on working parents, concerns about implementation and mixed opinions on service use.
Some emphasised the importance of free meals for children, expressing worries that introducing charges may hinder access to nutritious breakfasts.
For those who agreed with the proposal, there was a willingness to pay for the childcare element, understanding the need for financial contributions, especially if it would help maintain the service.
Some had concerns over the misuse of the provision and the need for a small charge to deter those using it solely as free childcare and earlier start times for breakfast clubs was requested to accommodate working parents.
They also mentioned means testing as an alternative to a universal charge, ensuring those who can afford it contribute while those in need received support and the ability to pay for the provision on an ad-hoc basis or if the charge is reasonable.
The council said there would be operational challenges if parents/carers want to pay on an ad-hoc basis and pupils attend as and when required.
These include the administration burden, dietary requirements, digital constraints and staffing levels.
The council report said that the proposal would generate additional income, which would be ring fenced and reinvested back into school budgets.
The report said: “The council is facing significant financial challenges into the medium term and is considering a range of options to contribute to addressing the shortfall in funding.”
Councillor Rhys Lewis, cabinet member for education, proposed an amendment to the recommendations which would include a separate charge for those who only want to use the service three days a week and this was accepted by cabinet and the director of education Gaynor Davies said this is something that can be looked at.
He said this proposal is coming as the council faces significant financial challenges and that they wouldn’t be considering the proposals unless they were absolutely necessary adding that it doesn’t in any way affect the breakfast clubs.
He highlighted that any additional charge would be ring-fenced and reinvested into schools budgets.
Deputy leader of the council Councillor Maureen Webber said they all recognise the concerns raised by parents relating to the extra financial cost and said it’s an area where charges are already applied by other authorities and others are consulting.
Councillor Ann Crimmings said it is a “difficult decision” but “one which is necessary in the current financial circumstance.”
Leader of the council Councillor Andrew Morgan said that the consultation showed that the cap for two children is the right thing and making those eligible for free school meals under the old measure exempt.
He said the two tier charge of £40 a term for three days a week and £60 a term for five days a week “seems a lot fairer.”
He said they wouldn’t want to be doing this but they’re seeing pressures day to day on services particularly on schools adding he thinks it’s the right way to proceed and it would add flexibility.