(2) what steps he is taking to assist local authorities to deliver affordable pre-school child care; and if he will make a statement;
(3) what steps he is taking to increase parents’ access to flexible pre-school child care; and if he will make a statement.
[holding answer 19 June 2006]: The Government are committed to maintaining a diverse and vibrant child care market where providers from the private, voluntary, independent and maintained sectors work together in support of children and families. The new duties in the Childcare Bill will require local authorities to assess child care needs within their area, find out what parents want, and try to meet their needs. This will deliver choice and maintain diversity, responding to the needs of parents who—perhaps because they work atypical hours—are looking for flexible child care.
All three and four-year-olds are currently entitled to 12 and a half hours of free early learning and child care, and by 2010 this will have increased to 15 hours. Parents will be able to use the free entitlement flexibly enabling them to balance work and family life more effectively. From later this year pathfinders will test delivery mechanisms to ensure that parental demand for increased flexibility can be met without driving smaller settings out of business. The findings from the pathfinders will inform the roll out of the extension in hours and flexibility by 2010.
The duty in the Childcare Bill to secure sufficient child care which is eligible under the child care element of the working tax credit will help to improve the affordability of child care by providing greater access for families to the financial support available through the tax credits system. During 2005-06, the level of investment in the child care element of the working tax credit was more than £2.4 million a day, benefiting around 356,000 families. This year the maximum proportion of costs that can be claimed through tax credits increased from 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. We are also tackling high child care costs in London through a pilot programme being run jointly with the London Development Agency and the Greater London Authority which will deliver an additional 10,000 child care places for families on lower incomes.
[holding answer 19 June 2006]: I understand that Hertfordshire county council is still developing its children’s centres implementation plan. Each local authority has strategic responsibility for developing children’s centre services in its own area. We have issued guidance to help local authorities do this, including examples of good practice. However, detailed plans will be based on an individual authority’s own assessment of the needs of children under five and their families in the area, including the levels of disadvantage they face.