Labour urged to confirm how it will find staff for 100,000 new childcare places

<span>Keir Starmer visiting a nursery in Nuneaton on Monday.</span><span>Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters</span>
Keir Starmer visiting a nursery in Nuneaton on Monday.Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Labour has been accused of leaving a gap in its childcare plans after the party confirmed its promise to offer 100,000 new childcare places would not involve extra funding to recruit more staff.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, appeared at a primary school in Nuneaton on Monday alongside the shadow education secretary to publicise the party’s pledge to expand childcare places through primary schools.

The proposals involve paying about £140m to refurbish school classrooms, funded by Labour’s plans to levy VAT on private school fees, but nothing extra to increase staffing levels.

Starmer confirmed on Monday that Labour would sign up to the government’s policy to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week to parents of children aged nine months and over, starting next year.

In the past, however, the party has criticised those plans as underfunded, predicting earlier this year there would be a shortfall of 90,000 staff a year by 2025. A separate analysis by the Department for Education, which Labour says is more accurate as its earlier study is now out of date, has suggested the government would need to recruit 40,000 more staff by next September to fulfil its pledge.

Rachel Carrell, the chief executive of Koru Kids, one of the country’s biggest childcare agencies, said: “The plan announced today is a welcome move to expand the number of childcare spaces, which is desperately needed. But this is really just a plan to use dormant school facilities as physical space for the nurseries.

“Labour now needs to come up with the other half of the plan, telling us how they’ll find the tens of thousands of new childcare workers we’ll need.”

Sarah Ronan, the director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, said: “Labour’s commitment to increasing the number of places is the right one.

“However, if you boost places you have to also boost staff numbers, so underpinning its plan for reform must be a new workforce strategy that will attract more people into the sector and see early years professionals receive the pay, conditions and respect they deserve.”

Asked on Monday how his plans would work without spending more on staffing, Starmer replied: “We do need to deal with the staffing issues, that’s within the government’s costing … we need to have a properly thought-through recruitment process, which we’re rolling out.”

Labour has commissioned the former head of Ofsted, the education regulator, to lead a review into the government’s childcare plans, after which it says it will set out its recruitment plans more clearly.

Some experts, however, say there should be enough money in the system to pay for the additional staff needed, despite Labour’s previous criticisms of the system. Christine Farquharson, an associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The funding the government is providing for two-year-olds and those under two is substantially above the market rates. The hope is that the market is going to look at those rates and think they’re pretty attractive.”

She added that Labour’s pledge to create 100,000 places should not be seen as an entirely additional offer above what the government has already promised.

“This is not 100,000 new places in schools and another 85,000 that the government had previously promised,” she said. “This is more Labour saying how it would help deliver what the government has already said it would do.”

Farquharson added: “Labour is creating the physical environment for 100,000 new places but they haven’t said how they’re planning to find the staff to be there watching children. There will be a way to share those places among childcare providers, we just don’t know what it is yet.”

Starmer will travel to the north-east of England on Tuesday, where he will unveil another new promise: to provide an additional 100,000 urgent and emergency dental appointments for children, funded in part by higher taxes on non-doms.

The Labour leader will unveil Labour’s full manifesto on Thursday.

A Labour spokesperson said: “Labour will launch an early years’ strategy to ensure we have a long-term plan to secure the well-trained, motivated staff needed to deliver the childcare that parents need and which sets children up for life.”