It is easy to assume that the House of Lords is a bit of a toothless body when it comes to dealing with the business of Government. They can delay legislation and often amend it but are rarely in a position to prevent a stupid Bill becoming an Act of Parliament. However the latest action by the Peers has all of the resonance of a hard slap on the wrist for George Osborne and David Cameron, and it is to be greatly welcomed. The Government promised as part of their election offering to double the amount of free childcare available to three and four year olds, then after the election the hapless pair promised to bring this uncosted and unfunded offer to parents a year early, but also approached childcare providers to ask them to suggest how the trick could be pulled off without spending any more public money. This is a minor issues in the scale of all that Government does, it doesn’t have the appeal of taking on Doctors leaders. It is not even something one would assume most peers would be aware of. Few of them have any direct educational experience and even within educational circles, the provision of education and care of the under 5’s is very much a Cinderella issue.
However the Peers who had previously been promised financial data to explain how this huge expanse of provision would work have told the Government to go back and do their sums. They have introduced an amendment that requires the government to complete a “large-scale analysis” of the cost of implementing the pledge, and produce a “detailed solution” on how it will be funded. This will then be looked at by the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This is an excellent decision which does show the value of having a second Chamber within our Parliament. Those who supply early years care and education know that this is not an area where fortunes are made and in many settings only by paying minimum wages and spreading the back office work till it is paper thin can the books begin to balance. The alternatives to this approach are schools that cross subsidise their nursery provision or small pre school settings which rely on external fund raising to help them to remain the creative and child centred places that so many are. It is this final group that need the Peers to intervene most of all and thankfully it appears that they have!