Council-run day care centres call for economic support during COVID lockdown

Council-run education and care services across Greater Sydney – currently losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a week and bearing the brunt of angry parents over gap fee confusion – have called on the NSW Government to ensure they will not be left out of COVID funding support available to private operators.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott has written to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian outlining the challenges facing many of the 260 council-run education and care services following the Commonwealth’s announcement of the waiving of gap fees paid by parents using the centres.

“The Commonwealth provides childcare subsidies, with parents paying the remainder of fees – called gap fees – which vary depending on their income,” Cr Scott said.

“The waiving of those fees means a vital component of funding will no longer be available to education and care operators, including councils.

“This is great news for parents who are in lockdown and are not using education and care facilities, and many council-run services would like to support their communities during this difficult time by waiving gap fees, but it means operators will be left with a significant funding gap.

“Private operators will be able to access State Government business grants designed to help COVID-affected businesses, but if last year’s lockdown is anything to go by, our council-run services will not be able to access those grants.

“Local government operates the largest number of early childhood education services of any provider in NSW, and in rural and regional NSW is often the only provider. They are all doing to very tough in the current lockdown.

“For example, Fairfield City Council early childhood services have gone from 85 per cent utilisation in mid-June to 10 per cent this week. This is a loss of $45,000 in gap fees per week.

“Similarly, Cumberland Council has been hard hit by the lockdown and is set to lose up to $55,000 a week to the gap fee waiver if utilisation remains at its current 45 per cent in their long day care centres.

“Penrith City Council will be losing over $130,000 a week due to the gap fee waiver if attendance at their early childhood services remains at about 30 per cent.

“I am asking the Premier to ensure council-run early childhood education and care services affected by stay at home orders are able to opt in to waive gap fees by providing affected council-run services with financial support to cover the waived fees.”

Cr Scott said the government had already set a precedent for supporting council-run education and care centres affected by COVID closures when it provided $82 million funding last year to support the council services across the state that were not eligible to participate in JobKeeper arrangements. 

“This was a life saver to these greatly valued council-run services for their communities,” Cr Scott said.

“I am hopeful the NSW Government will once again recognise the invaluable benefit these education and care centres provide and ensure they are adequately supported through this current lockdown crisis.”

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