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Nursery vouchers warning

Nursery vouchers would damage provision for three-year-olds, jeopardise places for those most in need and bite deeply into the current pre-fives budget, Glasgow councillors were warned this week.

A briefing paper on vouchers, tabled for the pre-fives sub-committee, said that the city's extensive provision would be badly affected if the current pilot scheme goes nationwide under a re-elected Conservative administration.

Margaret Dobie, senior education officer, said Glasgow - with 144 centres, including 84 nursery schools - could not be compared with any of the pilot areas, such as North Ayrshire or East Renfrewshire, which had virtually no nursery provision before the pilot.

She told councillors the voucher scheme was beset by difficulties, not least by the gap between the Pounds 1,100 value of the voucher and the Pounds 2,600 actual cost of full day provision in nursery schools. The voucher emphasised part-day nursery class places, often based in spare rooms in primaries. However, the salaries of senior staff were being picked up by the primary schools.

It was certain, Ms Dobie continued, that the Government would cut Glasgow's spending on pre-fives and transfer it to vouchers. The council would therefore have problems ensuring all the money it spent at present was returned via parents' vouchers.

She suggested that the funding shortfall and the emphasis on places for four-year-olds would cut places for three-year-olds and toddlers, and bring no benefits to voluntary organisations which provided for under-threes.

Ms Dobie told councillors: "The admissions policy which gives priority to children in most need in compliance with the social strategy will have to be reviewed. Under the voucher system, priority is given to all children receiving part-time places in their pre-school years. No account is taken of any other factors."

She further warned that the nursery charges, introduced this session, could only be retained to pay for any additional sessions beyond the five half-days entitlement. "This would have a severe effect on present income," she said.

Ms Dobie said Glasgow should adopt a programme of positive publicity to remind parents about the quality of local authority provision and to ensure they spent vouchers with the city.

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