Rishi Sunak is said to have indefinitely postponed Liz Truss’s plan to reform the childcare system to boost the amount of free provision.
The former prime minister – ousted after only six weeks at No 10 – is believed to have looked at increasing free childcare by 20 hours a week, as well as relaxing limits on staff to child ratios.
Mr Sunak is “shelving” Ms Truss’s plans, with the scale of reforms now expected to be less ambitious, according to the Daily Telegraph – sparking concern among some top Tories.
Conservative MP Steve Brine, chair of the all-parliamentary party group on childcare, urged the government to press on with reform – which the Truss government had promised before Christmas.
“There is a major structural problem with childcare in England across facilities both run by the state and, especially, those run by private individuals and firms,” he told the newspaper.
“There should be a review of longterm childcare funding. The pressure on costs for childcare providers is forcing many of them out of business,” the senior MP said.
Mr Brine added: “Our message to ministers is talk to us and talk to the sector. It is not too late to pursue reforms but the situation is serious.”
The Truss government was thought to have considered a shake-up of the childcare subsidy system whereby parents, rather than nurseries, would be handed government cash to spend as they see fit.
As it stands, all three and four-year olds in England are entitled to 15 hours’ free childcare a week during term time, while some families can claim up to 30 hours.
One idea reportedly under consideration by the Truss administration was to increase the amount of free childcare from up to 30 hours a week to up to 50 hours.
In a sign of Tory frustration that plans are on hold, a member of Ms Truss’s former team told the Telegraph that pushing on with childcare reform could “detoxify the Tory brand”.
“Childcare could be a real winner for us at the next election, especially in seats where we’re struggling against the Lib Dems,” they said. “Liz wanted to make childcare reform a central part of her election offer; Rishi would be daft not to do the same.”
Ms Truss was also said to have wanted to completely abolish staff to child ratios in a bid to bring down costs for providers, in the hope it would also make childcare cheaper for parents.
Changing the early years staff per child ratio from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds is being formally considered by government after a public consultation launched in July.
But Coram children’s charity said relaxing limits would be an “unhelpful distraction” that is unlikely to reduce costs for families, while Neil Leitch, head of the Early Years Alliance, has said the “mindless policy” would “do more harm than good to a sector already on its knees”.
A No10 source said childcare remains “very important for the prime minister” and he was “working hard with ministers on improving childcare and early years provision for the benefit of children and parents”.
The Department for Education (DfE) said it would review “all options” to make childcare more accessible and affordable, but no decisions have yet been made.