Council-run childcare open, but may face financial pinch
A COUNCIL-operated childcare centre in Byron Bay is still operating as normal.
But Byron Shire Council staff are looking at how to best manage things going forward.
The Federal Government's announced this week that child care would be free during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The government will begin covering 50 per cent of the usual fees of at childcare centres from April 6, estimated to cost about $1.6 billion over three months.
While for-profit, privately owned childcare businesses will be able to access the federal JobKeeper payments at the same time - $1500 a fortnight per worker - the council isn't eligible for this, as a government body.
That means staff at Sandhills Early Childhood Centre in Byron Bay won't be supported by JobKeeper payments.
The council last week agreed to cut fees by 50 per cent, but that decision's become obsolete due to the more recent federal announcement.
United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly has criticised a "flaw" in the free childcare package, saying it could lead to the closure of council-run services.
"The way this funding model works is by combining with the JobKeeper subsidy, which is being paid to commercial childcare operators, to cover the full costs of keeping centres open," Mr Kelly said.
"But if the Federal Government fails to provide that $1500 a fortnight payment to cover staff wages at council-run centres, there simply won't be enough money to keep the services open, forcing parents to scramble to move their children elsewhere.
"Local Government is the largest provider of early childhood education and childcare services in NSW, caring for tens of thousands of children, yet all these services remain at imminent threat of closure."
Byron Shire Council's director of corporate and community services, Vanessa Adams, said Sandhills, based in Gilmore Crescent, was still open and would be free for their families under the federal scheme.
"We're doing everything we can to keep the doors open and to support families," Ms Adams said.
She said they were lobbying for the JobKeeper payments to be made available to the centre's staff.
Otherwise, it's unclear what will cover the other 50 per cent of fees.
"We're still working through (whether) that means we need to find the other 50 per cent," Ms Adams said.
"We will be losing money, there's no doubt about it.
"We're going to keep the service open even if we're losing money.
"If we've got to supply the other 50 per cent we'll do that but we'll lobby for the JobKeeper payment for our staff."
According to the council's website, its outside school hours care is also operating as normal.