Nursery pledge for two-year-olds is broken, say Tories

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Gordon Brown was accused last night of a U-turn over a pledge to provide all two-year-olds in Britain with free child care.

The Conservatives said that the small print in yesterday's pre-Budget report revealed that the commitment had been watered down to provision for only "the most deprived two-year-olds".

The pledge was the cornerstone of the Prime Minister's keynote speech to the Labour Party conference. He said that the Government would "extend free nursery places for two-year-olds for every parent who wants them in every part of the country".

But the pre-Budget report said: "The value-for-money evidence demonstrates that providing a level of free provision for the most deprived two-year-olds, in line with the Prime Minister's commitment, is likely to have a greater positive impact on child outcomes than extending the number of free hours of child care available to three and four-year-olds beyond the 15 hours per week they will receive by 2010-11."

The Conservative children's spokesman Michael Gove said: "Gordon Brown is going back on a pledge he madea few weeks ago. The real effects of the Government's mismanagement of the economy are buried deep in the detail of the emergency budget."

The Tories claim the commitment in the report dovetails with a Commons answer to a question over the scheme in which the Department for Children, Schools and Families also failed to go beyond providing free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Replying to the Tory families spokeswoman Maria Miller, Beverley Hughes, the Children's minister, said: "We are currently working to develop plans to extend the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds. Sixty-three local authorities are currently delivering up to 15 hours of free provision to the most deprived two-year-olds. £100m funding is available to fund this pilot until April 2011." Ms Hughes last night insisted it was "nonsense to suggest that we are not taking forward our pledge on free child care for two-year-olds". It remained a "long-term ambition" to extend provision to all two-year-olds, she said.

*It emerged last night that the number of teenagers waiting for £30-a-week grants to help them stay on at school or college was double the number indicated by ministers last week. Figures released yesterday showed that 26,000 16- to 18-year-olds were still waiting for the payments – not 12,000.

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