UNDERSTANDING: Dawson Ruhl says Child Australia has more than 21 year\'s experience in providing services to create a nurturing childcare environment

Not for profits target ABC centres

THE six not-for-profit organisations that have teamed up to buy the failed ABC Learning centres say childcare should be the responsibility of not-for-profit organisations and not the corporate sector.

Perth-based Child Inclusive Learning and Development Inc, commonly known as Child Australia, is a member of a consortium that has launched a bid for the 241 ABC Learning centres deemed financially unviable, so they can be operated by the community sector.

The consortium, which calls itself Children 21 and is backed by a Bendigo Bank and Adelaide Bank joint venture, has entered into a due diligence process set up by receivers PPB, and is developing a management model that leverages the efficiencies of running the centres as a group.

Child Australia chief executive Dawson Ruhl said by operating ABC centres under a centralised management system the costs and revenues could be spread across the group, giving unprofitable centres an opportunity to become sustainable through the success of the others.

Twenty-four of the unviable ABC centres Children 21 is bidding for are located in WA.

Mr Ruhl said Child Australia had more than 21 years' experience in providing programs and services designed to create nurturing and stimulating childcare environments.

"Clearly the corporate model of running childcare centres does not work and this has been evident by the ABC [Learning] debacle," Mr Ruhl told WA Business News.

"I think people should be looking at this and recognising that, under the corporate model, the shareholders' interest is put above all else, and I think the primary concern should be achieving good developmental outcomes for children and not how much surplus stakeholders will get.

"While we need to do a careful review of the data on the centres being made available to bidders before finalising any offer, we believe running the centres as a group are the best way of keeping open as many centres as possible."

Mr Ruhl said details about whether a board made up by members of the consortium would be established to control the group, or how the costs to acquire the centres would be distributed, were yet to be determined.

Other members of the consortium include Community Child Care Co-operative NSW, Lady Gowrie Tasmania, Try Youth, Enterprise & Training Company Ltd, and Community Sector Banking.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government was looking for a long-term, sustainable future for the ABC Learning centres.

"We ended up in this situation because the former government let the market rip into childcare with no real controls or concerns about where that was taking us," she said.

"I've said consistently, time and time again, that the government is not in the business of owning or operating childcare centres."

Childcare services spoken to by WA Business News believe that, despite more than 600 childcare operators vying to take over the failed ABC Learning centres, the government was leaning towards handing them over to the not-for-profit sector.

Queensland's largest community childcare provider, C&K, and childcare management company Ramsay Bourne, partly owned by investment group Babcock & Brown, have also declared an interest in all 241 centres.

Taxpayer funding to keep the centres open is due to finish on March 31.


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