New friction over pre-school cash
During a visit to Central primary in Inverness, Helen Liddell said that of 119,923 eligible three-year-olds 60 per cent will benefit in the 1999-2000 school year, "a substantial step towards our target of full provision by 2002".
The new measures were heralded but not quantified in the comprehensive spending review last July. They include a pound;16 million development fund to help education authorities, private centres and playgroups with start-up costs, pound;89 million to be distributed via local authorities, and pound;5.8 million to cover the higher costs of places in rural areas.
The sum for rural areas, up from pound;4 million this year, will be targeted on 21 authorities.
Mrs Liddell also announced an enhanced grant of pound;1,175 for every eligible three-year-old taking up a part-time place. This will be paid to education authorities and where councils cannot provide the places they will negotiate a price with private centres and playgroups.
The commissioning of places is likely to cause the same tension between the authorities and the private sector that was evident in the pre-school expansion for four-year-olds.
Mrs Liddell has again set a minimum figure which local authorities must pay for a commissioned place, in this case pound;880 per three-year-old.
But private nurseries complain that most authorities retain all of the remaining pound;300 for administration, monitoring and training. They say that figure is too high.