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Lack of nursery, playgroup and childminder places nationally

A lack of nursery, playgroup and childminder places nationally could undermine the Government's childcare strategy, according to early-years specialists.

New official figures show areas such as the South-east and South-west offer double the number of places available in inner London and Merseyside.

The Government expects universal nursery schooling for three-year-olds tobe provided mostly by the voluntary and private sectors. Megan Pacey, spokeswoman for the Daycare Trust, which lobbies for better childcare, said: "In some parts of the country it is really difficult to get a place."

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said the National Childcare Strategy was injecting extra funding to create places in poorer areas.

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