Oral Answers; trying to flatter the minister

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families

Free Nursery Places (Reading)

2:30 pm

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour) 

How many three and four year olds in Reading have free nursery places.

Photo of Beverley HughesBeverley Hughes (Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Stretford & Urmston, Labour)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. As he knows, free entitlement to early-years provision for three and four-year-olds is a universal offer that is taken up by almost all four-year-olds and more than 95 per cent. of three-year-olds. In Reading that equates to approximately 3,500 places, helping to give three and four-year-olds the best possible start in life.

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour) 

There is no doubt that the extension of free nursery education is one of Labour’s finest achievements. In order to spread the word to a wider audience, can the Minister tell the House how many extra nursery places have been delivered in all Berkshire authorities since 1997?

Photo of Beverley HughesBeverley Hughes (Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Stretford & Urmston, Labour)

I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend that information because the figures before 1997 are not available, but we know that it was not a priority for the Government at that time: free provision was patchy and often depended on whether one had a good Labour council funding it, or whether one could afford to pay. This Government have been the first to introduce and to be committed to universal free entitlement for all three and four-year-olds, and we remain so because of the difference that it makes to reducing inequality, to helping every child to fulfil their potential and to helping families to balance work and family life. Parents want to know whether all that will be in jeopardy if the Conservatives come back into government.

Photo of Robert WilsonRobert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative) 

Many nursery providers in my constituency are under considerable financial pressure thanks to the changes made by this Government. A recent survey found that about half have considered closing. Many cannot meet the cost of free entitlement. How do the Government expect a broad range of nurseries to remain in business in Reading and elsewhere if they cannot afford to cover their basic costs?

Photo of Beverley HughesBeverley Hughes (Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Stretford & Urmston, Labour) 

Frankly, that was nonsense. It is because this Government doubled the number of places for the under-fives that the private sector was able to expand in the way it did under the Government last year; there are now more than 1.3 million places. The funding that we are putting in for free entitlement is enabling those providers to stay in business largely. Certainly our independent research shows that the money that we are putting in—£4 billion a year across all early years provision—is sufficient for free entitlement. We want local authorities to be more consistent in the way in which they administer that, but it is helping the private sector to thrive

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Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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