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Solihull's super service goes it alone

In a way reminiscent of the those doughty denizens of Pimlico who erected passport controls in the whimsical Ealing comedy, Iain Mills, Conservative MP, is declaring a UDI for Solihull in the matter of nursery vouchers.

During Monday's debate he told the Education Secretary that Solihull provides a far better service than the provision in the Government scheme and the vouchers will have a detrimental effect. "Will she exempt it, and other local education authorities from the scheme?"

He said the provision in Solihull gave each pupil Pounds 1,800 worth of "high quality, successful and established education" and according to his calculations 42 local education authorities will be disadvantaged.This may be a subject returned to during the committee stage of the bill which starts on Tuesday. This is the stage where the nitty-gritty of the bill is thrashed out. As The TES went to press 26 amendments had been tabled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour party has called for local authorities to be required to make development plans for early years provision, together with private and voluntary providers and the Funding Agency for Schools, where applicable.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman: "All we can do at this stage is to try to improve a bill whose underpinning principles we fundamentally disagree with.

"The bill does not state the age the provision is aimed at and we will be attempting to ensure that the expansion will be for three year olds as well as four year olds. We will also be requiring the Government to provide money towards the training of additional staff and extra buildings. Under the current proposals there is no provision for capital spending to allow the expansion needed to provide extra places.

"We are concerned to ensure that special needs provision and will be upheld and that all providers are required to abide by the code of conduct. Also a matter of concern is the effect of having state-funded nursery provision in the private sector in terms of the link between caring and education under the 1989 Children Act. There needs to be strategic planning between the different agencies."

The system of inspections proposed will also be under scrutiny, as will the possibility of fraud in the voucher scheme.

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