Ex-minister attacked over vouchers scheme

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The Independent Online
A former Conservative education minister was accused by Labour yesterday of seeking to profit from the Government's nursery school voucher scheme by setting up his own private nursery company.

Michael Fallon, who lost his Darlington seat at the last election, has set up a company to take advantage of the demand for new nursery places which will arise from the scheme - which he promoted as a minister. Stephen Byers, Labour's education spokesman, said: "The long-term interests of our children should be put before the short-term profits of Tory former education ministers."

Mr Fallon's company has built a pounds 600,000 nursery for 80 children in Darlington, due to open in September, and has plans to build similar nurseries nation- wide. The pilot voucher scheme starts next week in three London boroughs and Norfolk, but the Government has accepted that there will not be enough places for all four-year-olds, whose parents will receive a voucher worth pounds 1,100.

"It looks as though Mr Fallon could just be trying to do a favour for the Conservatives by at least attempting to provide places," said Mr Byers. "But it does raise questions of his involvement in promoting the idea in government. And this is someone who has no experience of pre-school provision - he is motivated purely by a need to make profit, rather than a desire to provide high quality education for four-year-olds."

Mr Fallon, who is seeking a Tory seat at the next election, said: "This nursery will be registered with Durham County Council. It will be inspected by them regularly, and we are planning an educational curriculum. This isn't just somewhere to drop them [children] off. This is preparing children to go on into primary school."

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