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Sunak: Childcare plan creates ‘brighter future’ and will help grow economy

Rishi Sunak said the Government was delivering on its childcare plan, as the first parents in England benefited from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds.

The Prime Minister said the plan would “build a brighter future for families and help to grow our economy”, but Labour has said that families will struggle to access places.

Officials said the number of parents taking up places will initially be in the “thousands” but that is expected to grow by “tens of thousands” over the coming weeks.

The policy, which came into effect on Monday, is the first phase of a plan to dramatically expand funded childcare for working parents.

The offer will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

The Government is confident that the childcare sector is ready to deliver the offer and make sure parents have the childcare they need.

But Labour pointed to an analysis of Ofsted data that suggests the number of childcare places fell by more than 1,000 between March and December last year, ahead of the  anticipated increase in demand for places.

The Prime Minister said: “Last year we promised the biggest ever expansion in childcare provision this country has ever seen, and today we are delivering on our plan with 15 hours of free childcare for parents with two-year-olds.

“We want to give working families the peace of mind that they will be supported and our full expansion will save parents £6,900 a year, helping to build a brighter future for families and help to grow our economy.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the Government was “on track for more than 150,000 children to take up government-funded places”.

She added: “Support with childcare costs has an enormous ripple effect, freeing up parents to increase their hours at work and put more money in their pockets, or giving them the security to try out a new career or passion. It also contributes to economic growth and opens up new career opportunities in a hugely rewarding sector.”

Chris McCandless, the chief executive of nursery chain Busy Bees Europe, said: “The increase in funded hours will help working families and give more children the best start in life, and we’re really pleased that the rollout has been accompanied by the clarity on future funding rates we needed to invest in creating the additional capacity required in our centres.

“We’ve already seen a significant increase in interest in our nursery places in recent months from parents looking to make use of the funded hours, and expect to welcome more children to our nurseries this year and in subsequent years as the scheme expands further.”

But Labour published a dossier about “childcare chaos” including testimonials from parents and nurseries across England.

Some parents complained of high costs and extra fees to pay, while others reported 18-month waiting lists at some nurseries, the dossier found.

One nursery warned that it could be “forced to go bust” under the Government’s expanded offer.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “If there is one thing that the first phase of the entitlement expansion has shown, it’s that simply promising ‘more free childcare’ is meaningless if you’re not willing to invest in the infrastructure needed to deliver it.”

He added that many nurseries, childminders and pre-schools have had “no choice” but to limit the number of new funded places they offer and it was unsurprising that many parents accessing a place for the first time have found it ”difficult, if not impossible”.