Industry urges more strategy

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The Independent Online
INDUSTRY leaders, equal rights campaigners and parents' groups have joined forces to demand that the Prime Minister reveal how the Government's childcare strategy is going to be funded.

The Childcare Group, which includes the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry and the Equal Opportunities Commission, is calling on Tony Blair to address a series of crucial issues.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the group says the key points that must be tackled if the childcare strategy is to succeed include making public information about sources of funding. They add that the strategy should meet the needs of all working parents with children up to the age of 14.

The group calls for additional tax exemptions for childcare services "so as to create a level playing field between the different forms of childcare assistance".

The Independent has launched a campaign for tax allowances for working mothers, calling on the Chancellor to help women to return to work. And figures from the Office for National Statistics show there is great need.

Young mothers are more likely to work than a decade ago, says the statistics office, confirming that women are increasing their share of the labour force.

Economic activity rates for women with children increased from 59 per cent in 1987 to 67 per cent in 1997, while women's share of the workforce rose from 42 per cent to 44 per cent. The number of women with a part- time job increased by 643,000 while full-time women workers rose by 595,000 over the decade.

The Childcare Group is also lobbying the Government to make sure that employers are "fully involved" in developing and delivering the childcare strategy. It says the Government should also provide a summary of funds available - for example challenge funds, regional development funds, social funds, local authority budgets, education budgets and private investment.

The letter warns that measures must be taken to ensure projects started can be sustained. In the last year, 800 pre-schools have closed and a further 1,500 predict they may close within the next 12 months.

"Sustainability is the key," says Sheila Wild, director of employment policy at the Equal Opportunities Commission. "There can be very good projects started up but do not have sustainable funding, particularly in areas where there are low-income families. No responsible parent wants to put their child into childcare that is precarious."