Headlines: July 18th, 2005

Local authorities will in future be obliged to ensure there are sufficient childcare places in their areas. Children,Young People and Families Minister Beverley Hughes has said she will legislate to fulfill parents’ legitimate expectation of accessible high quality childcare and early years provision.The minister has launched a consultation to take forward the commitment to bring in legislation set out in the ten-year strategy ‘Choice for parents, the best start for children’, which was published late last year. It highlighted the importance of every child being given the best start in life and offering parents and carers more choice in balancing their work and family life.

The current Parliamentary session will see the introduction of a Childcare Bill, which will confirm the important role of local authorities as strategic leaders and place on them the obligation to work in partnership across all sectors, particularly with voluntary bodies and private business to shape the provision of childcare and early years services.

Specifically the Bill will give local authorities the lead role in facilitating the childcare market to ensure it meets the needs of working parents, especially those on low incomes or who have children with disabilities. Councils will also be required to improve the outcomes for all under fives and to close the gap between those with the poorest outcomes and others by ensuring early years services are integrated and accessible. The legislation will also seek to ensure parents have access to the full range of information they may need and to lead to a reformed, simplified, childcare and early years regulation framework to reduce bureaucracy.

Beverley Hughes said the needs of children and their parents would be at the heart of the proposed legislation, with local authorities as their champions. She went on, “All children deserve the best start in life, and we know that early education and childcare is central to ensuring that. High quality integrated care and education help lay the foundations for success at school and in later life, and help to address the effects of poverty and disadvantage,” adding, “Making the most of the voluntary and private sectors in realising these ambitions is crucially important I expect Local Authorities to work closely with providers in these sectors.”