Leading article: Where's the cash for childcare?

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The Independent Online

The Childcare Bill - published by the Government this week - attempts to enshrine in law for the first time parents' right to expect high quality childcare for their offspring. The legislation aims to provide a lifeline for working parents by ending the lottery that sees plentiful high quality childcare offered in some areas and very little elsewhere. The new law will also enable the Government to steam ahead with its plans for extended schools that will open from 8am until 6pm by providing childcare and activities for children before and after the normal schoolday. Local authorities will be given the vital role of shaping the future provision of childcare for children up to the age of 14 as well as delivering of services to pre-school children.

Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, insists that the needs of children and their parents are at the heart of the proposed legislation. Local authorities will be expected to act as the champions of parents and children, ensuring that their views are heard in the planning and delivery of services. The aim is that all mothers and fathers should be certain that high quality local services will be provided to support them and their children. However, the proposals will not bring any extra Government investment. Local authorities are warning that it will be impossible for them to meet the demand for childcare without at least an extra £200m over the next two years. The Local Government Association says that nothing will change in childcare provision - particularly for the poorest families - unless more money is found to ensure that all children get high quality care. Council leaders warn that if central government refuses to provide the cash then the cost will have to be borne by parents in childcare fees or by council tax payers in higher taxes.

Access to childcare is vital if parents are to return to work. It is right that parents who can afford it should pay for this service. But not all will be able to contribute very much. Providing high quality childcare staffed by large numbers of well qualified workers will be very expensive. If ministers want their proposals to succeed, they need to reconsider the issue of funding.

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