Wednesday 21 October 2015

169 childcare centres to lower fees from 2016

23 partner operators, with 16,500 places, to get govt grants in return
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

Thousands of parents will pay less for childcare from next year, with 23 childcare centre operators selected for a government scheme aimed at keeping fees affordable.

Offering 16,500 places across 169 centres, or one in seven here, the operators get government grants in return for reducing fees, which must be capped at $800 a month (before goods and services tax) for full-day childcare. The operators are appointed for five years under the partner operator (POP) scheme and will implement the one-off fee cut on Jan 1 next year. Any subsequent fee hike has to be kept affordable and below the $800 fee cap.

Two-thirds of the centres under the scheme now charge more than $800. Across the board, the centres will reduce fees by $80 on average.

The new scheme targets small and mid-sized operators and complements a programme for anchor operators, which get priority in securing Housing Board sites for centres and have to cap fees at $720 a month. The industry median is $907 a month.

About $250 million over five years has been set aside by the Government for both schemes. The two types of operators are expected to make up half the market by 2020.

The two largest partner operators are Star Learners, with all its 22 centres on the scheme, and Carpe Diem Holdings, with 16. Partner operators can opt to have only some of their centres on the scheme.

Star Learners, which has over 1,600 children in its centres, will reduce its median full-day childcare fee from $990 to below $800.

Its chief executive Tan Meng Wei said: "I think it's an entire package - it comes with increasing the quality of our teachers and centres but, at the same time, we have to keep fees affordable."

Almost a quarter of the POP centres are run by voluntary welfare organisations, which tend to charge less. These include 11 centres run by Presbyterian Community Services, which will lower its full-day childcare fees from $700 to $665.

The POP scheme was announced in March and attracted 40 applications, including several joint proposals by separate companies. One of those appointed, Alliance First, is a newly formed consortium of seven centres from five operators.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said the operators were chosen through "an open and competitive process, based on the strength of their proposals and track record".

Speaking at an ECDA scholarship ceremony yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said: "(The partner operators) will work with us to keep early childhood services affordable, raise the quality of pre-school programmes, and improve career development for our early childhood professionals. This will help us better support parents with young children."

Five small players in joint operation
Group is one of 23 under scheme to keep lid on fees; they must offer 300 places each
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

In an unusual move, five small players in the childcare business have joined forces to reap the benefits of a government scheme designed to keep a lid on fees.

They formed a consortium, which comprises seven childcare centres with more than 540 places, to take part in the partner operator scheme.

Yesterday, the Alliance First consortium was named as one of 23 operators under the scheme. Participating centres get grants but have to cut their fees, which must be capped at $800 a month (before GST) for full-day childcare.

Alliance First is the only one of the appointed operators that is made up of a newly-formed entity.

It has seven centres: Bright Sparks Childcare and Young Minds Childcare; two Sunshine Kids centres; Active Learners; Genius Hive Pre-School; and The Sunbird Child Development Centre. They will cut fees by about $40 on average.

To be eligible for the scheme, applicants had to offer at least 300 childcare places each. Smaller operators that did not meet this criterion could submit a joint proposal.

When the scheme was announced in March, then-Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing encouraged small operators to band together and share resources, noting that "it does us no good" to have too fragmented an industry. The sector has about 400 operators, mostly small ones with one or two centres.

Active Learners director Angela Ang told The Straits Times that the five operators had not known each other well, except for brief meetings at industry events.

But they wanted to find partners as they thought it was important to reap economies of scale. She said: "We cannot do it alone in this industry."

There are plans to share best practices, hold joint recruitment exercises, and have a common pool of relief teachers.

"But we will not control each other; we respect each other's space. We also don't see one another as competitors, as we're in different parts of Singapore," said Mrs Ang.

Speaking about the consortium at a scholarship ceremony yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said: "It'll be interesting to see how that partnership evolves, as that may also point the way for other smaller operators to come on board."

Early Childhood Development Agency names 23 partner operators
The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

The Early Childhood Development Agency yesterday announced the appointment of 23 partner operators.

They are:

Ace @ Work
Agape Little Uni
Alliance First
Bright Juniors
Bright Kids
Busy Bees Singapore
Carpe Diem Holdings
Faith Educare Centre
Ichiban Montessori
Just Kids
Kidz Meadow Childcare and Development Centre
Learning Kidz
Nurture Education Group
Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura
Presbyterian Community Services
Safari House Preschool
Spring Brainy Kidz
Star Learners Child Care
Sunflower Childcare Group
The Little Skool-House International
Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society
Young Women's Christian Association of Singapore

Up To 16,500 Children To Benefit From More Affordable And Better Quality Child Care From 2016
Child Care/ Infant Care Subsidies and financial assistance schemes

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