Ministers vow to drive down cost of childminders by scrapping 'lunatic' red tape

'Red tape': David Cameron wants to restore family values as it is seen as being more important to children than income or schooling

'Red tape': David Cameron wants to restore family values as it is seen as being more important to children than income or schooling

Bureaucratic ‘lunacy’ governing the work of childminders is to be torn up as ministers try to reverse a dramatic collapse in what they believe is the cheapest, most traditional form of care for working parents.

Under plans to support the family, new mothers and fathers will be able to collect £100 vouchers at some branches of Boots, entitling them to up to ten two-hour sessions on good parenting.

And as their children grow older, the NHS will offer practical advice.

The package of measures to be announced by David Cameron has been drawn up following warnings that effective parenting and childcare is more important to a child’s prospects than income or schooling.

A collapse in the values traditionally taught by the family was widely blamed for last summer’s riots.

The proposal to extend parenting advice risks accusations that the coalition is adopting the ‘nanny state’ approach favoured by New Labour, though officials stress the measures to be offered are voluntary. The Government also wants to address spiralling costs of childcare, which are among the highest in the world.

A recent survey by two charities, Save the Children and the Daycare Trust, suggested parents are spending more than a third of their incomes on childcare.

There has been a mass exodus from the most traditional form of childcare, the childminder.

In 1997, when Labour came to power, there were 100,000 carers catering for half of families paying for childcare.

But Labour introduced a huge raft of regulations, including Ofsted inspections and a ‘nappy curriculum’ with dozens of targets to be achieved by a child’s fifth birthday.

Measures: David Cameron will announce a package of measures

Measures: David Cameron will announce a package of measures

Now the number of childminders has almost halved to 55,000, pushing more families into using nurseries.

Ministers are to strip back red tape to cut costs, considering less stringent rules on the number of children carers can look after, the hours they can work and how they are regulated. In Germany, for example, childminders looking after fewer than three children are not regulated at all.

The Government’s parenting strategy, expected to be unveiled by Mr Cameron on Thursday, will also set out plans for free vouchers for parenting classes to be distributed through Boots.

The scheme will be piloted in three areas - Middlesbrough, Camden in north London and High Peak, Derbyshire - and extended throughout England and Wales if it proves a success.

Parents will be able to use the vouchers to buy lessons from independent organisations such as the National Childcare Trust.

Currently the courts may impose such classes on the parents of unruly children, but ministers hope that the involvement of Boots will persuade families to see them as normal, like ante-natal classes.

But Naomi Eisenstadt, one of the founders of Sure Start who is now an academic at Oxford University, suggested the scheme would not target the right families.

‘The people who take up the classes are more likely to be the “worried well” than those who really need help,’ she said.

Fathers4Justice campaign director Nadine O’Connor said: ‘The voucher is about as much use as paper plane. What good is a parenting class to fathers denied access to their children?’

PM's Friend in link to vouchers

Joanne Cash and Octavius Black

Joanne Cash and Octavius Black

Ministers dismissed Labour questions over the involvement of a friend and former adviser to David Cameron in a trial of vouchers for parenting classes.

Parent Gym, run by Octavius Black, is one of 14 providers of classes in a pilot scheme in Camden, London.

Mr Black was at Eton and Oxford with Mr Cameron, and is also close to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Kevin Brennan, Labour’s spokesman for schools, said: ‘There need to be reassurances that Government contracts have been awarded on the basis of merit.

In light of the close friendship between Octavius Black, Michael Gove and David Cameron, it is important that we understand what discussions Mr Black had with fellow members of the Tory Government’s inner circle on this policy.

We also need to know whether Mr Black stands to gain from this arrangement.’

An Education Department source insisted Labour’s claims were redundant, since Parent Gym was a ‘philanthropic programme’ and would not profit from the scheme.

A spokesman added: ‘A full and open competitive tendering process was completed.’

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now