Councils eye-off ABC Learning Centres

By Angela Dorizas

The Australian Services Union (ASU) has called on the Federal Government to give priority to councils interested in taking over childcare centres operated by ABC Learning.

The ASU national secretary Paul Slape said the collapse of ABC learning, now in voluntary administration, provided an opportunity for the return of childcare services to local government. The Union is encouraging councils to register their interest with the company’s receivers.

“The Local Government component is a very important one and is a very stable one and this is now an opportunity for the Federal, State and Local Governments to have a look at the whole childcare industry and see who is best to run it,” Mr Slape told Government News.

“Our view is that most parents if they had the choice would rather have their kids in council run or council sponsored community centres.

“It brings stability, it brings good governance it certainly brings skilled staff. The ratio of carers to kids is probably better and it is not something that is going to go broke overnight, like ABC Learning has done.”

Mr Slape said a number of local government authorities already operate childcare centres or sponsor non-profit community run facilities. He said the current economic situation was unlikely to affect local government’s ability to buy or operate ABC Learning centres, providing there was sufficient funding.

“I don’t think local government is going to take it on unless they’re pretty sure that they are going to be financially supported by the Federal Government,” Mr Slape said. “There is always the problem of cost shifting.”

The ASU will raise the issue at the inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government, held tomorrow in Canberra.

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard today announced that local councils, private companies and non-profit community groups had all expressed interest in buying-out or taking over ABC Learning centres.

"We’ve said to people around the country who have expressed interest in the future of ABC Learning Centres to register that interest with the receiver," Ms Gillard told reporters.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) responded with an appeal to extend the deadline for registering interest. MAV president Cr Dick Gross said it was “unrealistic” to expect that the operation of ABC Learning would be resolved by December 31.

“The Commonwealth must urgently agree to extend the deadline so all interested organisations have more time to thoroughly assess centres, look at business models and determine their utilisation rates and viability,” Cr Gross said.

“It would be a tragedy if the Commonwealth allowed a ‘fire sale’ approach by the receivers as this could damage the long-term security of childcare services.”

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