New crisis for Coalition as Nick Clegg vows to block childcare reforms reforms following revolt from parent groups

Labour says apparent U-turn was 'yet another example of chaos and incompetence at the heart of government policymaking'

Plans to allow nursery staff and childminders to look after more toddlers are likely to be dropped after Nick Clegg angered the Conservatives by raising serious concerns about them.

Labour claimed the Coalition was “in chaos” after the Deputy Prime Minister threatened to pull the plug on proposals to relax childcare ratios.  He intervened after a majority of the 11,000 responses to a consultation exercise opposed the move and mothers’ groups, childcare providers and a government adviser warned it would not achieve the objectives to cut costs for parents and attract better qualified, more highly paid staff.

Furious Tories accused the Liberal Democrats of reneging on a policy due to take effect in September. The ratio for children aged under one was set to rise from three per adult to four and each adult would have been able to look after six two-year-olds instead of four as at present.  Tory ministers hope that David Cameron will overrule Mr Clegg but the policy looks doomed as it needs the support of both Coalition parties.

A Whitehall source said: “Clegg agreed this policy and has proved as trustworthy as on tuition fees and Europe referendums.”

The Lib Dems denied making a U-turn, saying they had agreed only to a consultation exercise and that it  would be foolish to plough on with a policy when there were serious doubts it would work. Mr Clegg said: “When we as a government consulted on changing the number of little toddlers that each adult can look after, the response from experts, from parents from nurseries was overwhelmingly negative. They felt that the risks outweighed the benefits and it wouldn’t necessarily reduce costs. So that’s what I still have reservations about, about this change, and that’s why we’re continuing to discuss it in government.”

Labour will stoke Coalition tensions by calling a Commons vote on the issue in the next few weeks. “David Cameron and Nick Clegg are creating chaos and confusion on childcare,” said Stephen Twigg, the shadow Education Secretary.

Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister responsible for childcare, who was summoned to the Commons to answer an emergency question on her strategy, said England had "the tightest ratios in Europe" for children under three and the lowest staff salaries.  No one would forced to change their  ratios, she said, adding: “It is about choice.”

She admitted  the British academic establishment is  divided on the issue but insisted: “These policies are alive and well in France, in Ireland, in Holland, in Germany - there is not a single country, including Scotland, where the ratios are as low as they are here in England".

Professor Cathy Nutbrown, who reviewed childcare for the Government, welcomed Mr Clegg’s move and said children could pay "a very high price indeed" if the Government did not reconsider its plans. She told BBC Radio 4: “There’s no strong evidence that these costs really will be reduced. There’s a promise here that reducing the number of adults working with young children will reduce the cost of provision to parents and at the same time there’s a promise that staff will be better paid.”

Justine Roberts, the founder and chief executive of Mumsnet,  hoped that Mr Clegg’s intervention would result in a rethink.  She said: "Mumsnet users will be mighty relieved that some in government are listening to concerns expressed by parents and childcare professionals alike about relaxing childcare ratios. Put simply, parents believe that the quality of care will be adversely affected by the proposed changes.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Strategic Partnerships Coordinator

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their research appears at the f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen