MARK Drakeford was asked three times if he planned to introduce the expansion of free childcare to 1- and 2-year-olds in Wales during First Minister's Questions.

In last week's Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised 30 hours of free childcare for children above nine months and up in England. This will be introduced on a staggered approach.

Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies asked Wales' first minister three times in the Senedd, on March 21, if he intended to introduce the same provision in this country.

He was left irritated when Mr Drakeford refused to answer the question with a straight 'yes or no'. Instead, Mr Drakeford argued England was playing "catch up" with services already available in Wales.

Mr Davies asked: "Can you confirm that the Welsh Government will be bringing forward a policy that will have a childcare offer for nine months to two years, and then, obviously, building on what is already the offer here in Wales?"

Mr Drakeford replied: "The promises - the aspirations, we might say - that the Chancellor set out, all of them carefully calibrated to make sure they land the other side of a general election, are simply attempting to catch up with the services that are already available here in Wales.

"For three and four-year-olds, here in Wales, families get 30 hours of childcare for 48 weeks of the year. In England, that's 38 weeks of the year; 10 weeks fewer in England than you get in Wales. Here in Wales, just last year, in our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, we have extended the reach of the childcare offer for three and four-year-olds to people who are on the cusp of employment, and 3,000 more parents are able to take advantage of that childcare offer here in Wales just on that one aspect.

"My understanding is that the chancellor says that 60,000 more people will enter the workforce as a result of his investment in childcare. We've already got 3,000 as a result of what we did for three and four-year-olds alone last year, and our record of expanding childcare for two-year-olds is something that is simply an aspiration in England. So, the real answer to the people who come up and speak to the leader of the opposition is: we already do far more in Wales than they do in England, and they'll be very lucky indeed if they catch up with where we are already."

The MS posed the question again. 

Mr Drakeford reiterated that the Welsh Government is "already promising to do three times as much as the chancellor is promising to do in England on a proportional basis."

"We will invest £70 million in capital investment in this sector, so that it can grow and take more children into childcare," he said.


"There is not a penny piece, not a single penny piece, in the chancellor's announcement of capital investment in the childcare sector in England. We will provide 100 per cent rate relief for the sector here in Wales: £10 million in rate relief to support the sector. There is not a penny piece in rate relief for the childcare sector in England either. We will introduce an extra 2,500 places for two-year-olds in Wales from April of this year, and another 4,500 new places for two-year-olds in phase 2 from September of this year.

"When you add those two figures alone together, we are already—already—promising to do three times as much as the Chancellor is promising to do in England on a proportional basis. That is what we are doing in Wales. I'm not copying anybody else; this is devolved Wales where we make our own decisions. And the decisions we are making will do far, far more for far, far more families, and not on an aspirational basis, not on the basis that this may happen, some time in the distance when you know you won't be in power, we will be doing it in this Senedd term, with the money and the determination that this Senedd provides for it."

Mr Davies said: "Why do people feel that you're not doing what's right for them here in Wales, First Minister?"

Mr Drakeford replied he had "given the facts".

"If you are running a childcare business in Wales, you have 100 per cent rate relief through decisions made here in Wales - a decision to support the sector - because you will never grow childcare anywhere if you don't have places for children to go and people there to do the job," he added.

"We are investing in the places and the people. We will deliver an offer in every part of Wales that doesn't simply match what is theoretically on the table in England, but will be seen in every community here in Wales."

The full Senedd exchange can be read here.