Officials stay mum on nursery helpline

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Indy Politics
A helpline for parents seeking information about nursery vouchers has been replaced with pre-recorded information on an answering machine in case civil servants made comments on the future of the scheme.

With just days to go before the voucher scheme's nationwide launch on 1 April, machines replaced people on the end of the freephone line to meet guidelines on the separation of government and politics during the election campaign.

The Department for Education and Employment, which runs the line, said Cabinet Office rules meant civil servants could not be exposed to questions such as whether vouchers would continue in 1998.

Under the scheme, parents of four-year-olds will be entitled to apply for vouchers for approved nursery care worth pounds 1,100. More than half a million have already applied, but about 100,000 have yet to do so.

Labour has pledged to discontinue nursery vouchers after their first year if it wins power.