Pilot nursery vouchers sent out

21st June 1996 at 01:00
The first vouchers to buy nursery places for four-year-olds were this week posted to parents in the four pilot areas as the Government announced 48 private and voluntary centres had passed its quality threshold. But Labour has again pledged to scrap the scheme, due to be implemented fully from August next year.

Raymond Robertson, the education minister, expressed delight at the number of private and voluntary sector nurseries and playgroups now deemed fit to deliver an effective education curriculum. Parents could be confident about the quality of provision available through the voucher scheme, he said.

A list of registered centres in each of the four areas - East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, parts of Highland and Argyll and Bute - has been made available by the Scottish Office.

However, Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokeswoman, denounced the initiative as "a pretty cruel con" when she addressed the Scottish Early Years Forum in Stirling last week. "No voucher, no place, no choice," she declared.

The plans were cobbled together hastily, were costly to administer and were open to "cowboy operators". Nursery vouchers did not guarantee a place, and put at risk the co-operative environment in the sector.

Mrs Liddell said Labour would launch a national childcare strategy in the autumn and invited organisations to contribute. It will be followed by an early years' summit aimed at forming coherent provision. She admitted there would be "significant costs" in offering access to quality nursery education. Earlier, Keith Yates, chief executive of Stirling council, called for flexibility. "We should not allow the early years to be captured by any one interest group, " he told the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Educational Institute of Scotland condemned the Government's refusal to amend its voucher plans despite opposition from 80 per cent of the public. The Pounds 1,100 voucher was "wholly inadequate" to meet the costs of a year's nursery education.

* The Scottish voucher scheme will not be affected by the Government's nursery voucher defeat in the House of Lords on Monday.

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