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Mayor decides to flat-share with poshest creche in town

FRANCE

The mayor's private apartments in Paris's grandiose City Hall, where President Jacques Chirac lived, slept and entertained between 1977 and 1995, are being renovated.

Today's mayor, Bernard Delano is turning half his sumptuous official residence into what will become in September the poshest creche in the city, with a view over the Seine and ceilings 5m high.

Mme Chirac's former bedroom, its chandelier removed but retaining the decorative mantelpiece, will become a nursery, while a paddling pool will be installed in Mr Chirac's former office.

The transformation is a sign that Mr Delano , socialist leader of the red-green coalition council elected in 2001, is keeping his promise to cater for the needs of Paris's children and their parents. Under Olga Trostiansky, assistant mayor for early childhood and the family, the council opened its 1,000th new creche place in December, in a plan which will ultimately provide 4,500.

Schools and pupils are also central to Mr Delano 's policies.

"The situation was bad two years ago. The former council was trying to save money and in 1994 it cut the number of childcare workers and downgraded their importance," says Eric Ferrand, assistant mayor responsible for schools, who controls an annual budget of e100 million (pound;68m).

"We wanted to make long-term plans but also create new jobs, encourage those working with children, and develop activities with priority for three to 12-year-olds."

Mr Ferrand has authority over all school functions outside the classroom such as premises, support staff, mealtime supervision and extra-curricular activities. National government - represented by the Paris rectorat, the education authority with which Mr Ferrand liaises - is responsible for the curriculum and employment of teachers.

In 2002, City Hall opened nine new primary and lower secondaries and carried out more than 1,200 renovations. This year another six schools are planned.

Recruitment programmes have already boosted numbers of staff to organise out-of-hours sports, cultural and educational activities. Free Saturday morning workshops for primary children have been set up in schools, parks and museums.

Mr Ferrand, who plans to introduce activities for 12 to 15-year-olds, hopes more schools will open outside working hours to let children use facilities such as gyms and libraries.

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