Politics: Blunkett reveals pounds 20m grant for 20,000 new childcare places

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The Independent Online
CHILDCARE campaigners yesterday said that the national childcare strategy - creating a million places for children - was a "once in a lifetime opportunity", while warning that the proposed expansion must not be at the expense of quality.

The Government finally unveiled its Green Paper on childcare, pledging to make a "real difference".

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, announced an extra pounds 20m to provide 20,000 childcare places, as well as including pounds 4m to train childcare workers and an extra pounds 2m to fund the development of local childcare partnerships.

This adds to the pounds 300m pledged by the Chancellor in last year's Budget to establish new childcare places over the next five years. From September, every four-year-old is guaranteed a free nursery place. The childcare tax credit for working families will also cover childcare costs of up to pounds 105 a week for a family with two or more children.

Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, said the strategy marked an end to public policy that was neither "child- nor family-friendly". "For too long, public policy was made by people who thought nurseries were somewhere you visited on a Sunday to buy your bedding plants," she said.

Local authorities will have to carry out a "Domesday audit" of the childcare in their area by the end of the year, so that targets can be set in the next Budget.

"Our aim is to ensure good quality affordable childcare for children aged up to 14 in every neighbourhood in England," said Mr Blunkett.

The Daycare Trust today welcomed the plans, saying it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity to close the childcare gap". The Trust's director, Colette Kelleher, said: "Now the Government must provide the resources and guidance to make the strategy work. The challenge also lies with local authorities, training and enterprise councils and employers to work together to deliver the strategy..."

Margaret Lochrie, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "The Green Paper delivers a clear promise to parents ... However, there is a tremendous shortage of places ... and there can be no guarantees that, in the short term, parents will be able to find the nurseries and pre-schools that they need."

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