HC Deb 26 April 2001 vol 367 cc425-6
1. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

What Government financial support was given to playgroups in South Swindon in (a) 1996–97 and (b) 2001–02. [157907]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)

This year, generous financial support is being given to playgroups in Swindon, including £770,000 for direct grant for three-year-olds, funding for four-year-olds through the standard spending assessment, £415,000 in child care grant, £1.5 million over three years for the neighbourhood nursery initiatives and moneys from the new opportunities fund. Swindon playgroups can also access specific national funds for capital investment and sustainability to expand services to provide full day care and to support pre-schools in difficulties.

In 1996–97, Swindon pre-schools got nothing for free nursery places and a minute share of the miserable £9.6 million available nationally for out-of-school clubs. Unlike the Tories, we are putting our money where our mouth is, investing in the early years and supporting pre-schools.

Ms Drown

There is no doubt that under this Government there has been tremendous extra support for nursery education and child care, including playgroups, which is in stark contrast to the virtual abandonment of the sector by the Conservative Government. Will my hon. Friend assure us of her support for playgroups? What are the Government doing to improve the status of playgroup workers, who provide valuable support to our communities but are often poorly paid and lack recognition for their worthwhile work in playgroup sessions, in preparing for those sessions and in evaluating the work that is done?

Ms Hodge

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her long-standing commitment to the work that she has carried out to ensure that there is a choice of high-quality child care and education places for people in South Swindon. Of course we value playgroups and we wish to raise the status of those who work in them. It is an interesting fact that child care and early years education is now the second fastest growing sector in the labour market. With our investment in that sector, the establishment of a qualifications framework and the introduction of the child care tax credit and the working families tax credit, we are enabling playgroup workers to be properly rewarded for their work.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

When the Education and Employment Committee looked at early years provision in towns such as Swindon, we heard that a problem for playgroups is the pressure placed by schools on parents to bring their children into school well before they are ready. What are the Government going to do about that?

Ms Hodge

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the pressure on playgroups came from the previous Government's ill-advised and ill-conceived nursery voucher scheme, which led in one year to the closure of 1,100 playgroups. This Government have invested to ensure that playgroups have access to the nursery education grant for three and four-year-olds. That means that we have turned a corner, and last year there were 6,000 new places in playgroups in England.

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