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Commons staff to get child care help

Lindsey Blythe finds employees at the mother of Parliaments are giving a boost to all working parents. Cleaners, bar staff and attendants working at the House of Commons are to receive vouchers worth up to Pounds 30 a week to subsidise child care.

The vouchers are the result of a deal struck by the House of Commons Commission, which employs 1,400 staff in six departments, and Childcare Vouchers, a subsidiary of LV (luncheon vouchers) Group Ltd.

The move is likely to be seen as a significant boost to working parents, particularly women, although MPs will not qualify for the scheme.

The commission is contributing Pounds 6 a day in the form of vouchers towards the child care costs of its staff. They will be awarded to both male and female employees "from the Clerk of the House right down to the lowest grade", according to John Robb, deputy head of the House's Establishment Office.

The vouchers can be used at nurseries and playgroups, or - more usually - given as payment to relatives, childminders, au pairs or nannies. The child care worker involved then sends the accumulated vouchers to the LV Group, where staff promise to redeem them with a cheque within 24 hours. A similar system has been in operation for staff working at the House of Lords for some time.

Childcare Vouchers are now used by around 150 United Kingdom companies - those in the private sector include Granada TV, Avon Cosmetics and BMW. Public sector users include various health authorities, the probation service and local authorities from Cornwall County Council to Bradford Metropolitan District Council.

Childcare Vouchers is currently proposing a voucher scheme to help John Major, the Prime Minister, fulfil his pledge to provide nursery places for all four-year-olds whose parents want them.

Under the proposed scheme nursery education vouchers would be offered to parents using information stored on the Child Benefit computer in Newcastle. Parents could telephone a central register to find out about local nurseries or playgroups, take the voucher along and the school or playgroup would then send it to the operating company for reimbursement.

The proposal was set out in a submission to the Department for Education and Employment in June. The company currently provides a voucher scheme to 150 employers.

* New national vocational qualifications for nursery staff will be launched on September 17 by the National Extension College and the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education.

Fully-trained staff will be "worth their weight in gold" when the Government's nursery voucher scheme starts next year and the competition between nurseries hots up, say the two training organisations.

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