Headlines: December 13th, 2005

Local authority plans for children’s centres could duplicate existing private and voluntarily-run facilities and put them out of business according to research from the National Day Nurseries Association. It says half of nurseries say their local council has plans to open a centre nearby.The Association says the new government-funded children’s centres, some being run under the Sure Start banner, are already causing falling rolls for nurseries in the voluntary and private sectors. The Childcare Bill, currently going through Parliament, encourages partnership working and specifically states that councils should not develop childcare provision alone unless there are no other “appropriate” organisations to do so.

The research, though, says that many people in the independent sector are worried that proposed new council provision will duplicate existing services and force them out of business rather than addressing genuine shortages of affordable care.

An Association spokesman said some local authorities were working well with the private and voluntary sector but a lot were not. Meanwhile an Alliance of childcare charities has called for a number of changes to the Childcare Bill, including introducing a duty on local authorities to find out what childcare parents need, as well as assessing what’s already provided locally.

In a joint statement, 4Children, the Daycare Trust, the National Childminding Association and the Pre-School Learning Alliance said the Bill was welcome but added, “However, we are determined to make sure this Bill brings the maximum benefit to all children and parents. That’s why we’ve proposed a number of changes – to safeguard quality, to support Local Authorities as champions for children locally, and to ensure the Bill really delivers for all children and parents.”