Essex: Clegg visits Essex nursery on day of childcare row

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited the Busy Bees Nursery in Colchester today.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited the Busy Bees Nursery in Colchester today. - Credit: Archant

DEPUTY prime minister Nick Clegg has underlined his opposition to Government plans to expand childcare ratios.

During a visit to Essex today, Mr Clegg admitted he has “serious reservations” that by allowing childminders and nursery staff to look after more children childcare costs for parents will be reduced.

Under currents proposals, from September the number of children aged one year and under that a qualified childminder will be able to look after will be increased from three to four. Each adult would also be able to look after six two-year-olds instead of four, but the ratio for three-year-olds would stay at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate is present.

The proposed reforms, currently under consultation, are being championed by childcare minister Liz Truss who has said England has the tightest restrictions in Europe on the number of children staff could supervise - a trend that has pushed up childcare costs.

During a visit to the Busy Bees Nursery, on Severalls Park, Colchester, where he met with staff and children, Mr Clegg said: “I have serious reservations about whether increasing the number of children childminders can look after will actually reduce childcare costs.

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“I’ve talked about the idea with staff here today and the response was negative. I think we should listen to the people who are actually involved in childcare. The idea needs to be discussed further.”

Mr Clegg said he didn’t want this latest row to detract from some of positive childcare plans being formulated by the coalition Government.

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In particular, he pointed to plans to extend free childcare for two-year-olds to children from lower income backgrounds - a move that could benefit more than 2,000 two-year-olds in Essex, acccording to Mr Clegg.

He added: “High quality early learning can make a huge difference to children at the start of their lives. By getting things right from the off, they are much more likely to be ready when they start school.

Mr Clegg said parents can find out if their two-year-old is eligible by contacting either their local nursery provider or their local authority. Places will initially be targeted on children from families households which meet the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals and those who are looked after by their local authority.

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