Parents should be offered 'childcare passport'
Politicians are being urged to simplify the way they fund free childcare for pre-school children by creating what is being dubbed a "childcare passport".
The National Day Nurseries Association idea would draw all existing funding streams into one account which parents could then use as they choose.
The body, which represents 20,000 independent nurseries, says the current funding system is too complicated.
The idea could "solve" the childcare issue for the long term, it said.
NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said it would put families at the heart of childcare, cut bureaucracy and allow nurseries to get on with caring for and educating children.
"This general election is a great opportunity for parties to work together and transform childcare funding for the long term."
She added: "If parents hold the purse strings they can choose and pay for their childcare directly, making things much simpler for them and allowing more money to reach nursery frontlines."
Her organisation, and other early years groups, have long argued the current state funding is inadequate, the system is inefficient and very complicated for parents.
The three main political parties back the continuation of free childcare for pre-school children.
In England, there are four main funding streams - employer-supported childcare vouchers, tax-free childcare (which is due to be introduced this year), various free early years entitlements, depending on the age of the child, and any help via tax credits or universal credit.
The NDNA says such a passport and the right investment could help to offset longstanding underfunding of nursery places by successive governments which has not kept pace with inflation and rising wages.
However, she acknowledged, such a plan "would involve a change of mindset to a family-centred system rather than the traditional approach that requires families to fit in with government's initiatives".
Ms Tanuku is urging all political parties to support the setting up of a cross-departmental taskforce along with representatives from Scotland and Wales.