The Government's nursery scheme was savaged as damaging to educational provision and politically dangerous last night by the country's longest serving Tory chairman of education.
The indictment came from Geoffrey Wright, the Conservative chairman of Solihull education committee, who said that he and eight other Tory council spokesmen had written to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to warn of the risks. "... I weigh my words carefully when I say that in my area of Solihull, nursery education will be damaged by this voucher scheme," Mr Wright told BBC2's Newsnight.
"It will appeal to a very thin stream of parents ... But if authorities around the country are forced to pull back on 'early years' education, it will attract the opposition of far more people than it wins support of ... for that reason politically it is potentially quite dangerous."
The Government has struggled to find local authorities to take part in pilots to test the pounds 1,100 vouchers, securing only three London authorities. Buckinghamshire, the only remaining Tory-controlled shire council, last month backed away from the scheme, demanding more financial assurances.
Solihull has one of the highest levels of nursery provision and currently receives more than pounds 3m in government grants for 'early years' education. It will be expected to hand back 90 per cent under the voucher scheme. There is no guarantee it will get the money back if parents choose private nurseries or fail to use the vouchers.
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