North Ayrshire divided over nursery vouchers

15th March 1996 at 00:00
The two constituency parties that cover North Ayrshire remain opposed to nursery vouchers and the privatisation of education they herald, David Lambie, former MP for Cunninghame South, told delegates.

The Labour-run authority was approved last week as a test bed for the Government's voucher scheme but Mr Lambie warned existing provision would be undermined. He admitted that only 18 per cent of children aged three to five had nursery places but blamed 20 years of control of Strathclyde.

Vouchers were a "tax windfall through the back door for the better-off parents" and the scheme was "complex, inefficient and open to abuse and fraud", Mr Lambie said. In England, the Child Benefit Agency had sent forms to all parents with four-year-old children but a third had not replied.

Mr Lambie added: "Parents had to send the application forms to a London-based management company called Capita, another Tory organisation making money that should be spent on education. The company sends the details to Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Manchester where the vouchers are printed. These are then sent back to the parents who send them back to the Stationery Office who post the vouchers back to the parents.

"The parents then give them to the school. The schools give them to the local education authority which sends them back to Capita. Capita sends them to the parents and the parents give them to the school and the school gives them to the education authority before they get their money."

Administration of each voucher worth pound;1,100 would cost pound;290.

Sandra Osbourne, prospective parliamentary candidate for Ayr, said a shortage of nursery places in her constituency had been a concern but 500 new places were being provided in South Ayrshire without "a nursery voucher in sight" by using spare capacity in schools.

Pat Kelly, Stirling, called for nursery education to be declared a statutory responsibility.

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