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A consultation paper on a national framework for childcare was published today by education and employment minister...
A consultation paper on a national framework for childcare was published today by education and employment minister Cheryl Gillan.

'Many parents want the option to work and that means the need for good quality childcare available for their children,' she said. 'This becomes increasingly important as the economy grows with more people entering the workforce.

'While there has been an increase in childcare provision in recent years, much more is needed. But I am clear that this is an area where the government should not act alone. I do not believe in a nanny state. It is the family's responsibility to look after their children.

'The government only has a role where there is real need, for example, where children are at serious risk. The most effective action government can take is to remove obstacles and create the right conditions for supply to grow to meet demand and ensure that quality controls are in place.'

'All parents choose how best to provide care for their children: whether they are staying at home or going out to work. More and more parents work and face the daily challenge of balancing the demands of work and family life.

'To be competitive and succeed in world markets, the nation must make the most of the talents and potential of the whole working population, including mothers and fathers with childcare responsibilities. Childcare therefore has a roll to play in contributing to our economic competitiveness.

'Of course we are not starting from a blank sheet. The government has taken a number of successful initiatives over recent years:

During the first three years of the Out of School Childcare Initiative we created 71,500 places, approaching 50% more than our original target of 50,000. Government funding is continuing for a further three years giving a total investment of nearly £64m.

Employers receive tax relief for the cost of providing childcare for their employees, and since April 1990, employees have been exempt from paying income tax on the benefit in kind of workplace nurseries by their employer. This last measure costs £10m.

The Childcare Disregard has been designed to help parents on low incomes to pay for childcare. From October 1994 help with childcare charges of up to £40 per week were available to families receiving Family Credit and other benefits. The childcare charges are offset against earnings when benefit entitlement is calculated. In April 1996 this was increased to £60 per week, and some 23,000 families have benefited.

At the same time there has been a large increase in the number of pre-school places available. By 1995 there were some 5,500 day nurseries, including 480 workplace nurseries, 374,000 places with registered childminders and some 410,600 playgroup places in the growing range of provision. In addition, while nursery vouchers are first and foremost an education initiative, they can provide an opportunity for responding to working parents' demand for a combination of pre school education and daycare.

The Children's Act of 1989 sets the quality assurance framework which ensures that all care service provision for children is of high quality.

'It is precisely because of the success of these initiatives that we believe it is time to take stock of where we go from here.

'In framing my thoughts and forming my views I am grateful to the organisations with whom I have had discussions over the last few months. They include Employers for Childcare, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, Parents at Work, Kids Club Network, the TUC, the Family Policies Studies Centre, The Daycare Trust, The National Childminding Association, Opportunity 2000 and the Women's National Commission. I am delighted that representatives from these organisations have spared the time to come to this launch today.'

The consultation paper seeks views on what a national childcare framework might look like in detail. It must enable all parties to work together to provide childcare services that meet local labour market needs. Key issues to consider are:

Availability: how can the demand and supply of childcare be assessed, should school age childcare be the priority, how can the market be stimulated to increase provision?

Affordability: how can childcare be made more affordable to parents? What part should others, for example employers, play in subsidising childcare? How can the government best focus its available resources?

Accessibility: are parents in a position to access the care available? For instance childcare in rural areas needs to take into account transport and distance.

Quality: are improvements to quality assurance arrangements needed and what might these be? Are there particular training and education issues that need to be addressed?

Coherence: where would national co-ordination be particularly helpful? How can existing government initiatives be better integrated?

Key players and their roles: for example Training and Enterprise Councils, employers, local authorities, private and voluntary sector providers, schools and of course, parents.

A number of leading organisations with an interest in childcare have welcomed the publication of the document:

'Following our very helpful meeting with the minister in March to discuss EFC's Business Blueprint we have worked closely with the department for education and employment on this issue. The publication today of the consultation paper is an exciting and significant step forward.'

'Kids Club Network is pleased that the government has issued this consultation document on the creation of a national framework for childcare in the UK. We look forward to discussing all the issues with the government after its publication.'.

'The CBI is pleased to learn of the government's proposal to publish this consultation paper. It is a welcome development complementing the increasing use of family friendly and flexible working practices to recruit and retain employees with family responsibilities.'

'The Institute of Directors welcomes the opportunity to participate in the debate on childcare which we hope will enable parents to return to work.'

'The Family Policy Studies Centre welcomes the emphasis this consultation document places on the need for a national framework for childcare provision. This must encourage the debate about the type and range of quality services British children and their parents need.

'It's good news for working parents. We can help shape the family friendly polices of the future.'

'The EOC very much welcomes the launch of this consultation as an essential first step towards the concrete action needed to develop a coherent approach to childcare provision. Improved provision will have enormous benefits for working parents, employers, children and the economy as a whole and it is vital to the achievement of equality of opportunity.'

'The National Childminding Association has long campaigned for a national childcare strategy which builds on the high quality provision that already exists including Registered Childminders. We look forward to responding to the document.

'Congratulations to the DfEE for taking this debate forward. Lack of affordable childcare is the single greatest factor holding women back in the labour market and reinforcing inequality. Britain needs a national childcare strategy, led by the government, based on partnership.

'We welcome any consultation that emphasises the importance of childcare. We hope that such government recognition of the essential role it must play in the arenas of both family and work, points the way to the development of a national childcare strategy.'

-- Work and Family: Ideas and Options for Childcare was announced on 28 August. Copies are available from the Department for Education and Employment Publications Centre on 0171 510 0150. The closing date for comments is 25th October 1996

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