Small operators cool to banding together

Small childcare operators are cool to the Government's suggestion of coming together to reap economies of scale.

Seven operators, each of which offers fewer than 300 childcare places, told The Straits Times that they are either not interested, or undecided and waiting for more details.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said earlier this month that it "does us no good" to have too fragmented an industry.

He encouraged small operators to band together to submit joint proposals for the partner operator scheme. It requires operators to cut fees, among other criteria, in exchange for government grants.

To be eligible, operators must offer at least 300 childcare places - each or as a group.

But small operators raised concerns about partnering others.

Mr Ethan Lee, director of Little Mighty Me, asked how manpower resources would be pooled.

"I'm open to sending my teachers to another centre, but I'm not sure about other teachers coming over. I'm concerned about the quality of teaching," he said.

Ameba Schoolhouse director Liaw-Tan Xinhui said that not much time is spent on administrative matters, so pooling administrative staff may not lead to much savings.

Ms Clara Yeow, director of Sunshine Kids Care Centre, wanted to know if partnering operators refers to merging companies, or just sharing resources without any merger.

She and Mr Vincent Yap, director of two-centre operator Eshkol Valley, are unsure if they can find "like-minded" operators.

"What is their philosophy of care?" asked Ms Yeow.

"Merger is like marriage. You can't get married overnight to someone you hardly know."

A single-centre operator's director, who declined to be named, said he will not apply.

"Childcare centres are scattered everywhere and can't share facilities like a central kitchen.

"I also don't want a central administrative body and another centre looking at my financial records."

The authorities have said they will further support partner operators in "strengthening HQ capabilities for better coordination and resource sharing".

But no further details are available yet.

This article was first published on Mar 30, 2015.
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