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Vouchers to go by next year

The decision to axe nursery vouchers with effect from August 1998 was made by Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, on the day council leaders met in Edinburgh demanding action. The Liberal Democrats and the SNP were quick to criticise Mr Wilson's failure to scrap the scheme immediately.

Mr Wilson said: "In the circumstances we have inherited we must issue vouchers to parents early next month, on a once only basis, so they can confirm places at centres meeting the quality standard set. No further vouchers will be issued."

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities acknowledged the problems of quickly unravelling vouchers, whose administration is contracted to Capita Management Services and which affects the private and voluntary as well as council sectors, a total of 600 centres.

This contrasts with the position in Wales where 90 per cent of four-year-olds have an education authority place compared with 56 per cent in Scotland, making the change less problematic.

Val MacIver, education chairman in Highland, one of four Scottish councils piloting vouchers, said: "If it is to be vouchers for another year, I could live with that."

Patricia McGinty of the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association said: "We now have a breathing space to get everybody round the table and plan ahead."

Comment, page 23

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