They rejected accusations from Tim Yeo, Under-Secretary for Health, that councils had been 'overzealous and rigid' in their application of guidelines designed to guarantee minimum standards for private day care services.
Under the Children Act, which came into force in October 1991, local authorities are required to register childminders and people providing day services for children under eight. The Government issued detailed guidance to local authorities on the factors they should take into account when dealing with applications for registration.
The Department of Health revised the guidance yesterday, telling councils that they must register services, unless they have 'sound reasons' to refuse, and that their own guidelines were not enforceable. It also made clear the Government's intention to amend food safety regulations to relieve childminders of their present duty to register their premises with environmental health departments.
Ministers have been disturbed by reports from private day care service operators that they have been priced out of the market by council demands about the type of lavatories provided, standards of decoration, and staff-child ratios.