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15 July 2024

Business Steps Up For School Holiday Support


GUEST COLUMN:

Katie Spackman
Associate Director
CBI Wales

With the summer holidays approaching, businesses across Wales are turning their attention to how best to support employees with childcare responsibilities.

The high cost of childcare, which is virtually non-existent in some rural areas, means parents and carers face difficult choices. Some will use up their annual leave – and unpaid parental leave – to look after their family over the extended break.

Working from home can be beneficial for some workers juggling family responsibilities, but the summer holidays highlight how childcare support is a critical issue for the UK economy. Firms must balance business growth and productivity with support for their employees' domestic challenges.

The summer period is when grandparents, other relatives and friends come together to support working parents with their childcare issues. Without these strong networks, a parent or carer’s physical ability to go into the office, factory or shop floor can become difficult during the school holidays.

Businesses look to flexible ways of working to ease childcare pressures on families, particularly during school holidays, which the CBI supports.

The holiday season is particularly important in Wales. Staffing shortages amid a busy tourist season can create difficulties for businesses, especially for firms in the tourist sector supply chain, whether they are supplying ice creams to cafes in Tenby or beer kegs for bars in Llandudno.

The debate about the length of the summer holidays was the subject of a recent Welsh Government consultation which looked at a proposal to cut the length of the Welsh summer holidays by a week. The idea was that this could free up room in the school calendar for a longer two-week break in October. A consultation on the issue attracted 16,000 responses, divided opinion and the plans were shelved until the next Senedd parliamentary session.

Before writing this piece, I reached out to CBI Wales members to hear their opinions about the length of the school summer holidays.

One executive told me that when her children were young, she relied on family members to operate a ‘rota’ to care for her children over the holidays, but that working from home made it easier for her employees to look after their own children.

She suggested improved childcare or summer camps like those in the US, where children learn to be independent and gain practical skills, would benefit the economy.

Another business leader pointed out the current summer holiday schedule meant a number of parents want to take annual leave at the same time, as schools discourage children being taken out of the classroom during term-time for holidays. The cost of flights, hotels and package holidays rocket during school holidays.

One company owner said that shortening the summer holidays does not reduce the overall holiday period across the academic year but would move the pressure points to a different date. For example, a parent will still have to pay for a holiday club whether they are using the service in July or October.

The debate over the length of school holidays highlighted the need to future-proof our workforce. The CBI’s research found that than two-thirds of firms have been hit by labour shortages and more than a third have been unable to grow as a result.

At both devolved and UK level, politicians need to use the tools available, including immigration. While immigration isn’t devolved, consideration could be given to adding childcaring to the Shortage Occupation List. To build a skilled, productive, and healthy national workforce, to unlock investment and transform the economy, we need to look at innovative solutions that could deliver the short term results we need.

At all times of the year, greater flexibility in terms of working hours along with a more flexible school calendar would do more to support working parents. This includes exploring options such as staggered holidays, shorter but more frequent breaks, and improved access to affordable childcare during school holidays. Such measures could help mitigate the impact on small business productivity in particular while still providing adequate time for pupils and parents to rest and recharge.

As we look at the next stages, business and Welsh Government can work together to look again at the proposals for a shorter school break. We need realistic working solutions that are for everyone but most importantly put the pupil first.



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