The childcare sector is changing. One of the most urgent issues is the financial harmonisation of preschool and day-care facilities. The Childcare and Playgroup Sector (Harmonisation) Act and the Childcare (Innovation and Quality) Act went into force on 1 January 2018. Quality requirements, funding and supervision of childcare and playgroups are harmonised under these laws.
What are the consequences of this harmonisation? Municipalities are expected to make plans for and direct the transition of playgroups, smoothing out the bumps along the way. They have been given free rein to organise the harmonisation in the manner best suited to the local situation. This raises a number of practical and legal questions, however, including in the areas of subsidies, state aid and procurement law.
With the entry into force of these laws, the municipalities continue to bear responsibility for the care of children from single-income families or with unemployed parents. Because the transformation of preschool facilities into childcare has made them part of the market sector, existing playgroup subsidies must be reviewed. While playgroups could be funded by the municipalities themselves in the past, the relationship with childcare facilities must now be given shape. For example, diversified facilities must be available throughout the municipality. Account must be taken of the higher quality requirements that now apply to playgroups, as well as the new rules for supervision and enforcement.
A recurring theme is the extent to which municipalities can continue to finance pre-school and early school education facilities (VVE) as they have in the past, in particular in view of state aid law. In principle, the new legislation has changed nothing in the VVE tasks assigned to municipalities. In many cases, municipal financing of VVE policy is still not subject to state aid regulations. The statutory duties of municipalities are explicitly related to combating the educational gap suffered by certain groups of disadvantaged children. In concrete terms, this means that the municipality continues to bear legal responsibility for a specific VVE offer for ‘target group’ children. The state gives the municipalities the means to carry out this task. However, some municipalities are utilising the changes in the childcare sector to review their VVE policy, in turn integrating that policy into their childcare policy. It is important to them that the new municipal VVE policy remains within the correct state aid law framework.
For Sociaal Werk Nederland, Pels Rijcken has mapped the consequences of the Childcare and Playgroup Sector (Harmonisation) Act in terms of subsidy law, procurement law and state-aid law in a guide addressing the legal issues involved in the harmonisation. This guide offers answers to legal questions and is designed for municipal policy staff. For playgroup and childcare facilities, this guide can serve as the basis for a dialogue with their municipalities.