28 February 2008

Whose ABC (Learning Centres)?

In the last couple of days there's been a lot of discussion about the financial troubles of ABC Early Learning Centres.

There's an interesting comment in today's Crikey from Stephen Magee:

In the constant tut-tutting of the commentariat about nasty Eddy Groves, one fact is constantly overlooked: Eddy's success is a direct result of the takeover of childcare in Australia by academics and public servants. 20 or 30 years ago, childcare was a happy go lucky affair: community-run centres operating out of church halls with enthusiastic amateurs, parent volunteers and a handful of paid staff were often the norm. Then the "experts" arrived. Self-appointed public service bureaucracies began imposing heavier and heavier "standards" on child care centres. Parents were, apparently, no longer capable of deciding what was appropriate for their children -- and could not devote the long hours needed to cope with the paper-shuffling processes of accreditation. Slowly but surely, the weight of it all led to the rise of the childcare professionals and mobs like ABC. Eddy was simply meeting a need that the public service had created.

Sounds a bit simplistic but there's more than a grain of truth in his comments. They could be applied to many other activities which were previously the sole domain of the community, or non-profit sector. Over the last 20 years or so the creation of markets for such services as child care, employment services and aged care has made it harder for smaller community based groups to survive, let alone flourish. Much Government funding is now allocated after competitive tendering, which tends to advantage larger organisations, both for profit and non profit ones. There may be some advantages in this, eg economies of scale, but when big ones like ABC ELC wobble, the entire apparatus starts to look shaky. I hope this doesn't happen but would like the government to review some of the policies mentioned by Magee which have contributed to the current situation. It's too much to expect a u-turn, but maybe not too much to ask for an easing of the rigid compliance standards which favour those who have large record keeping back offices over those whose primary concern is service delivery. Sometimes small can be better.

Update 29 February

Today's Australian has a piece by Andrew Fraser "Fast Eddy hits the wall" which surveys the rise and recent troubles of ABC ELC. Extract:

There's a strong school of thought that says child care should be run as a service, not as a profit-making venture.

The industry did not traditionally evolve around margins on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Most employees weren't keen on negotiating their contracts with an employer or negotiating a future employment path: most of them just liked looking after children.

The Australian's Elisabeth Wynhausen recorded some of the experiences of these workers: "(ABC Learning Centres) put some young childcare workers in a room with three company executives before producing the workplace agreement. Under the terms of that contract, minimum-wage employees earning about $13.30 an hour agreed to pay for their own police checks and first-aid training, and to purchase their own uniforms through the company."

Today's Crikey also recommended a piece by Ben Hills in the SMH a couple of years ago.

1 comment:

Miss Eagle said...

I agree with the "experts". They tried to impose Rolls Royce standards when a good old fashioned reliable Holden would have done. I was once discussing this with a friend who was then an ALP Senator. She agreed. She had established a community kindergarten and said that when they started the fire protection was a garden hose. And they survived. However, Eddy Groves has not been built by wrong headed experts. He has been built by government subsidies. He has aggrandised himself at taxpayers expense. Eddy just might be reaping what he has himself sowed.

Blessings and bliss