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5,000 places for under-threes

The Scottish Office announced this week that almost half of the #163;91 million allocated in July to expand child care will be spent on creating 5,000 part-time places for children under three.

Sam Galbraith, the Children's Minister, gave this latest boost to the burgeoning childcare industry on Monday when he visited Paisley Children's Centre, regarded as a model for the initiative. An additional #163;16 million will be available next year building to #163;42 million by 2001.

The remaining #163;49 million will go on new local childcare partnerships, parent helplines in every education authority by next summer,and extra funding for more regulation and inspection.

Guidance is to be issued to local authorities in October on the establishment of childcare partnerships and the planning of pre-school education and child care.

Mr Galbraith said: "This massive expansion in high-quality places will help more parents to find care, and more children to find themselves."

The aim is to support parents as well as toddlers. But, while the Minister said that "parents struggling to get by" would be a main target group, the extra places are intended to benefit all parents.

Mary Lundie, the centre's head, says the Government's policy of getting people off welfare and into work "will fall flat on its face" if there is only provision for three and four-year-olds.

"When children reach the ages of three and four, it is too late for many parents who become unconfident, deskilled and demotivated. By then they are on the benefit train from which it is not easy to jump off. What we need is early, early intervention."

Mrs Lundie maintained that state provision for children aged three and under was essential. "We are very far from the ideal world of a two-parent household with an extended family round about who can provide a quality upbringing, " she said.

The funding will complement #163;25 million to stimulate child care at school and #163;23 million for out-of-school activities, both of which will come from the lottery over the next five years. The Scottish Office estimates that the childcare tax credit, to be introduced in October next year, could provide #163;30 million a year for families on annual incomes of less than #163;25,000.

This latest instalment of funding from the Government's comprehensive spending review is additional to the #163;138 million earmarked for pre-school education for three and four-year-olds over the next three years.

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