Reading West debate over 'bonkers' childcare plan

Reading West candidates in live radio debate
Image caption BBC's Andrew Peach put questions to Miriam Kennet, Meri O'Connell, Malik Azam, Victoria Groulef and Alok Sharma

A Labour parliamentary candidate has branded UKIP plans to allow childcare vouchers to be used at non-Ofsted approved nurseries as "bonkers".

Victoria Groulef made the comments during a live radio debate of Reading West candidates in Berkshire.

UKIP's Malik Azam said the change was needed to address childcare shortages.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems promised to extend existing childcare provision and the Greens said corporations should contribute more towards education.

The BBC Radio Berkshire debate, broadcast live from Tilehurst, heard from candidates on the issues of childcare provision, housing, immigration and Europe.

'Educated workforce'

Mr Azam said: "On the voucher scheme, you can only use the voucher in Ofsted-approved nurseries, which means they're full. We would take away that regulation.

"We would want [the providers] to be people who parents trust. Parents are the best judge of that, not government."

Ms Groulef said: "I think a lot of nursery providers are being crippled by things like business rates. One of the areas we need to look at is giving a break to childcare providers.

"[The UKIP] idea of me leaving my children with someone who has not been professionally checked, is absolutely bonkers."

During the programme, one listener said she had to give up work because childcare was unaffordable and most nurseries were unwilling to take children for the minimum 15 free hours offered to children aged two and above by the government.

Liberal Democrat Meri O'Connell, said: "I had to give up work after I had my second child... I couldn't afford to to have two children in childcare.

"One of our ambitions is to bring in 15 hours of free childcare from when a child is nine months old... so we would fill that gap between the nine months and the two years where it already exists."

'Tax-free childcare'

Green candidate Miriam Kennet told presenter Andrew Peach: "We are offering free childcare from aged two right up to when you start school and we'd shift the school age, starting at about six or seven. We would pay for it by shifting the tax system.

"If big corporates think they are not getting the right education for the children - they don't pay for that at the moment, in fact, many of those corporates aren't paying any tax at all - so we would start to make them pay tax to make that contribution and to pay for what they are getting at the end, which is an educated workforce."

Conservative Alok Sharma said: "What is on offer right now is 15 hours of free childcare if you are a two-year-old from a disadvantaged background and you get 15 hours if you have three to four-year-olds, which is going up to 30 hours under a Conservative government and that is happening from 2017.

"From this autumn, we are having something called tax-free childcare... that means if you pay up to £10,000 in childcare you get £2,000 back from the government."

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