Plans to offer nursery vouchers to the parents of all four-year-olds could cost more in administration fees than in funding extra places for children.
Last night Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, said a pilot scheme in just four local authorities would cost pounds 5m in administration fees - more than the pounds 4.95m cost of offering an extra 4,500 places in those areas. The bulk of the total pounds 22m cost would go on paying for existing nursery places.
So far, the London Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster have signed up for the scheme. Norfolk has provisionally agreed to take part, and Buckinghamshire is also considering it, but the pilot, due to begin in April 1996 has been boycotted by the majority of local authorities.
Mr Blunkett accused ministers of bending to right-wing rhetoric instead of following commonsense policies: "Instead of tackling the real issues, the Government has lurched to the right so much that it is only interested in introducing the extremist cast-offs from right-wing think tanks."
The legislation to be introduced would give all parents a voucher with which they could purchase nursery education in either the public or the private sector. There will be no means-testing for those who wish to join the scheme.
All schools participating in the scheme would have to meet certain minimum standards, and would be inspected regularly.