Greater Sydney council-run services losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars a week” as lockdown bites
Council-run early childhood education and care (ECEC) services across Greater Sydney have called on the NSW Government to ensure they will not be left out of COVID-19 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 ECEC services following the Commonwealth’s announcement of the waiving of gap fees paid by parents using the centres.
These services, Ms Scott said, are currently losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars a week” and “bearing the brunt of angry parents over gap fee confusion”.
While the waiver of gap fees represents great news for parents who are in lockdown and are not using education and care facilities, she said, the decision 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,” Ms Scott said.
“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 it very tough in the current lockdown.”
Using the example of Fairfield City Council, one of the councils at the epicentre of current cases of COVID in Sydney, Ms Scott outlined that early childhood services have gone from 85 per cent utilisation in mid-June to 10 per cent last week, representing a loss of $45,000 in gap fees per week.
Cumberland Council has been similarly affected, and stands to lose up to $55,000 a week to the gap fee waiver if utilisation remains at its current 45 per cent in its long day care centres.
Penrith City Council is projecting losses of over $130,000 a week as a result of the changes, which have seen utilisation drop to 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,” Ms Scott said.
She drew on the precedent set last year for supporting council-run education and care centres affected by COVID closures when the Federal Government provided $82 million in funding to support council services across the state that were not eligible to participate in JobKeeper arrangements.
This, she said, was a life saver to council-run services and their communities.
“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.”
For more information on the decision to waive gap fees, see here.