CONCERN has been raised over the impact of plans to charge for childcare provided at primary and special schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) before breakfast clubs.
The council is currently consulting on plans to charge £1 a day for the childcare provided before school breakfast clubs, which will be kept free.
In RCT, all 92 primary schools and three special schools provide a free breakfast club and all pupils, from nursery to year six, are eligible to attend. The council’s education catering services supply the staffing and the food.
The proposal is to introduce a charge for the additional childcare element provided, from the start of April 2024.
It is proposed that a daily charge of £1 per day is brought in and based on 190 days per year, this would be rounded down to £60 per term or an annual charge of £180 for parents/carers.
The proposal is that there is no charge for pupils who have applied for and are entitled to free school meals.
The cabinet report said the move could generate an estimated annual income of £495,000, which would be ring-fenced and reinvested back into school budgets.
The report added that the cost of providing breakfast club provision has increased by nearly £400,000 in the past five years and with continued high inflation rates forecast for the next few years, this will have a significant impact on food, staffing, transport and energy costs.
The cabinet report said the council is facing significant financial challenges and is considering a range of options to address the shortfall in funding.
Officers told a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, December 13, that five other councils in Wales charge a similar fee.
But committee member Councillor Susan Morgans said: “With so many families struggling now in RCT and our working poverty numbers increasing by the day, surely we’re adding to the pressures now if we implement this charge and yet again we’re penalising people who are prepared to go out to work and support their families. Is there any way around this?”
Director of education Gaynor Davies said they are there to support families who are struggling and stressed that the free breakfast club would still exist.
Fellow committee member Councillor Sera Evans said there’s a concern, particularly for working parents and carers.
She said the school day doesn’t match the working day and so having this provision in place supports parents and carers who are able to work.
Cllr Evans suggested a flexible option like what they have with school dinners so that if they don’t attend they don’t get charged for it but there’s still an accumulation of charges.
She said they’re in danger of seeing parents opt out if they know they have to pay a large sum at once or on a termly basis because they know they might not take it up every school day.
She said: “Some flexibility there would be most welcome”, including in terms of how people pay.
Ms Davies said with flexibility comes increased administration costs and as they’re looking at this as an efficiency measure they would have to offset some of it against the savings.
Chair of the committee Councillor Julie Edwards said: “We need to be cautious not to single out one set of users over another and I think we should be encouraging all to get there for their healthy breakfast regardless of whether they’re free school meals or not.”
She also raised the inconsistency of timings and that there could be the same charge for someone who’s almost losing out on 10 minutes.
Ms Davies said it has to be a bespoke offer that meets the needs of the community and they would work with schools to try to make sure there is a consistent offer but there are inevitable variations because schools start and finish at different times. She added: “So I don’t think one size would fit all due to those natural variations.”