Voucher slap for Labour places

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
LACK OF parental choice and involvement could make Labour's nursery education scheme "potentially much more damaging" than the Tories' controversial voucher system, the chief executive of the Scottish Pre-School Play Association has warned, writes David Henderson.

The association used to be the largest provider of pre-school places and along with the independent nurseries remains critical of the way many local authorities act over places, cash and training. Partnerships were often strained and parents were told "nursery is best", Martha Simpson said.

Nevertheless, ministers are on target to offer part-time places to parents of all four-year-olds by the end of the winter, although actual take-up may be only marginally up on the voucher system.

Expansion has come over the past two years with Labour's universal scheme enhancing provision developed through the controversial vouchers. Scottish Office figures show a 91 per cent take-up last year against 95 per cent this year. The private and voluntary sector offer 12 per cent of places.

Patricia McGinty, a vice-convener of the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, believes take-up in some councils is substantially lower than places available after six snubbed partnerships. Dundee, Midlothian, West Lothian, West Dunbartonshire, East Ayrshire and Falkirk largely provided their own places.

Mrs McGinty said working parents were being penalised by the emphasis on rigid part-time places. Many had to pay for extended hours in private nurseries which were unable to claim back the cost of the nursery education element if there was no partnership agreement. Under the voucher scheme they would have received the cash.

Meg Macleod, owner of Beechwood Nurseries, which has links with seven west of Scotland authorities, called on the Scottish Office to force councils to pay up.

Partnerships take off, page 5

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