Nick Clegg blocks nursery shake-up - and says it could have pushed up costs for parents


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Indy Lifestyle Online

Plans to allow nursery staff and child-minders to look after more toddlers are being abandoned following clashes within the Coalition over the controversial policy.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, vetoed the scheme which had been championed by the Conservatives as a way of cutting costs to parents and driving up standards of child care staff.

Under the plans, the ratio for children aged under two would have risen from three per adult to four, while each adult would have been able to care for six two-year-olds instead of the current limit of four.

Last night Mr Clegg said the proposals had been “roundly criticised by parents, providers and experts alike”. He added that there was no real evidence would reduce the cost of childcare.

Today, speaking on his regular LCB 97.3 phone-in, Mr Clegg said the proposals had only ever been cleared to go out for consultation.

"What I said, by the way, very, very clearly, was that we can only decide on this when we have heard the response of people who frankly know better than any politician what it is like to look after four, five, six two-year-old toddlers," he insisted.

Mr Clegg said replies to the consultation from nurseries, parents' groups and other experts overwhelmingly suggested it was a bad idea. They also said "there was no real evidence this would reduce childcare costs.

"In fact, one nursery after another that I visited said, 'to be honest Mr Clegg ... this might well drive costs up because we are going to have to spend more money on more highly qualified (staff)'."

The plans, which were due to come into force in the autumn, were thrown into disarray last month when Mr Clegg first signalled his hostility to the moves.

The Tories accused him of bad faith, claiming he had given his backing to the proposal on ratios. He replied that he had only agreed to holding a consultation on the scheme.

David Cameron recently suggested he was open to compromise on the issue, but Mr Clegg announced the scheme had been scrapped.

Welcoming the announcement, Justine Roberts, the co-founder of Mumsnet, said: “Parents were unconvinced the suggested changes would lead to lower childcare costs, but did believe the quality of care would be adversely affected.

”Put simply, four babies under one or six under-twos is a lot for even the most experienced childcare worker to manage.“

Sharon Hodgson, the shadow Children's Minister, accused Mr Cameron of lacking a credible plan for providing high-quality, affordable childcare.

She said: ”Ministers have wasted a year on these flawed plans, while childcare costs have kept on rising and thousands of childcare places have been lost.“