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The government’s extended childcare policy is beginning today – but it starts amid warnings of a lack of funding and not enough staff to fulfil the pledge.

From today, eligible parents and carers of two-year-olds will be entitled to 15 hours of funded childcare per week.

It is the first part of a £8bn package – announced at the 2023 budget – that the government hopes will save “working parents” an average of £3,450 a year and help boost the workforce and the economy.

While welcomed by parents, it has already come under criticism from providers and the opposition.

Labour has highlighted Ofsted data suggesting more than 1,000 childcare places were lost between March and December 2023, despite the expected uptick in demand.

And the Early Years Alliance (EYA), which represents providers of childcare, says services will struggle and fees may need to go up.

The 1 April changes mark the start of a staggered rollout, with the plan being that working parents of all children nine months and over will get 15 hours of free childcare from September this year, rising to 30 hours a year later.

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Labour’s attack included a so-called “dossier of childcare chaos”, which lays out concerns such as parents complaining of high costs, long waiting lists, and nurseries warning they could go bust.

The dossier from Labour said: “The Conservatives’ childcare pledge without a plan announced at the 2023 Budget is threatening to crash the childcare system just like the Conservatives crashed the economy.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.

“That is why we have commissioned respected former Ofsted Inspector Sir David Bell to lead a review on early education and childcare to guarantee early years entitlements for parents.

Read more:
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Fear nursery closures will undermine childcare expansion plan

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Parents take on debt to pay childcare

“Only Labour will reform our childcare system and deliver the accessible, affordable early years education that will give children the best start in life.”

The commissioning of the review by Labour was seen by the Conservatives as an attempt to cancel the plans should Sir Keir Starmer’s party come to power.

‘We are not glorified babysitters’

At the Cornerstone Tots playgroup in Grimsby, mum-of-three Vicky Nunn welcomed the extra free childcare. Working long hours as a nurse, she says it “takes a weight off my mind that I can still work, being able to know that I can afford childcare and not have to drop shifts”.

But there are concerns that parents and carers pinning their hopes on benefiting from the new offers could be disappointed.

EYA chief executive Neil Leitch said there’s a lack of both spaces and staff.

“You have to value the sector, you have to recognise that we are not glorified babysitters,” he said.

The rising cost of living may also play a part.

At Grimsby’s community baby bank, they’ve seen an increase in the number of working families using their service.

Volunteer Leanne Hudson told Sky News: “Some families are going without eating themselves, just so the children can eat.”

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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the government is on track to deliver the first phase of its roll-out to 150,000 working parents of two-year-olds.

The expansion of free childcare aims to take pressure off parents and providers, but there are concerns it might not get people back to work quite as quickly as the government hopes.

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Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election

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Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election

Rishi Sunak is undertaking a week-long blitz of activity and announcements at home and abroad in a bid to convince a sceptical party he has the ideas and drive to continue as prime minister.

After weeks of criticism about an empty legislative agenda, an inability to set the agenda, and divisions in the Tory Party dominating the headlines, this week “action man” Mr Sunak will seek to take back control with news conferences, interviews and announcements.

On the Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, we discuss how Mr Sunak is aware of a possible challenge to his position with a vote of no confidence after the local and mayoral elections on 2 May.

He is undertaking a burst of activity to be able to point to his MPs to a rich agenda both this side of a general election and beyond.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts 👈

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‘Patience is thin’ over Rwanda bill delays

On Monday, the PM will hold a news conference to champion the likely passage into law of the emergency Rwanda legislation first announced last year.

Then on Tuesday, he will embark on a two-day European trip, beginning in Warsaw, with a major announcement planned as part of the trip.

Some sources expect the announcement to be defence-related, possibly around jointly training troops and sharing equipment with Poland and the West Balkans.

This is Mr Sunak’s first major trip on to the world stage in months, apart from a brief visit to Ukraine.

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It follows his first set-piece speech outside the Commons last Friday about welfare reform.

Many of the ideas there were designed for the manifesto and to be implemented in the next parliament in the unlikely event the Tories win.

The looming spectre of a challenge has led to some conversations about holding the election over the summer, with the starting gun fired possibly even announced before the local elections.

This remains unlikely, however, since it would be possible for the opposition to present this as a move prompted by panic, and the Tories remain around 20 points behind in the polls.

Therefore appealing to his party to allow him to stay in the job, by showing a blizzard of action and announcements, is a priority for Mr Sunak amid continued speculation about his party’s unhappiness.

Some 57 Tory MPs voted against his flagship smoking ban policy last week, with a further more than 100 abstaining, in a sign of his lack of grip on the party.

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The Week… Rishi tries to save his skin

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The Week... Rishi tries to save his skin

Two of Westminster’s best-connected journalists, Sky News’s Sam Coates and Politico’s Jack Blanchard, guide you through their top predictions for the next seven days in British politics.

This week, they react to MP Mark Menzies’ resignation from the Conservative Party and look at what it might mean for the next election.

Also this week, Rishi Sunak is packing his bags for Europe. Jack and Sam discuss what’s on the trip’s agenda, including highly anticipated announcements on the defence of Ukraine, as well as the UK’s wider defence and warfare strategy.

Mr Sunak’s Rwanda plan could finally pass through parliament too, more than five months after he unveiled the emergency laws. Jack and Sam reveal the final stage will be far from straightforward though, with MPs told to expect a long night in the Commons.

Plus, Angela Rayner is standing in for Keir Starmer at PMQs this week, the first time she’s been in the Commons since police announced they were investigating her. Jack and Sam discuss how she’ll deal with the mounting pressure.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts 👈

Email with your thoughts and rate how their predictions play out: jackandsam@sky.uk or jackandsam@politico.co.uk

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Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won’t stand at next election

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Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won't stand at next election

An MP facing allegations of misusing campaign funds has quit the Conservative Party and says he won’t stand at the next general election.

Claims surfaced earlier this week in The Times that Mark Menzies had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had reportedly locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

The backbench MP for Fylde in Lancashire disputed the allegations but was suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party while an investigation took place.

In a statement, Mr Menzies said: “It has been an enormous privilege representing the people of Fylde since 2010, but due to the pressures on myself and my elderly mother, I have decided to resign from the Conservative Party and will not stand at the forthcoming general election.

“This has been a very difficult week for me and I request that my family’s privacy is respected.”

Lancashire Police said it was reviewing “information” about Mr Menzies after Labour asked for an investigation.

Speaking to Sky News’ Electoral Dysfunction podcast, former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had called the latest scandal and allegations against Mr Menzies “jaw-dropping”.

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The claims surrounding Mr Menzies came to light after the outgoing MP’s former campaign manager, Katie Fieldhouse, spoke to the Times, prompting the Conservative Party to launch its own internal investigation into whether there had been a misuses of its funds.

She claimed the Conservative Party was aware the allegations about Mr Menzies were potentially criminal, alleging that the party’s chief of staff “told me that when they first took over the investigation [from the Whips’ Office] they had consulted solicitors”.

She added: “He told me on the phone, ‘the solicitor said it is fraud but you are not duty-bound to report it because it’s not Conservative Party money’.”

On Sunday a Conservative Party spokesperson said its investigation was now complete and had found there had not been a misuse of funds – but that it had identified a “pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs”.

“The money in question that was sent to Mark Menzies MP was signed off by the two signatories of Fylde Westminster Group,” the spokesperson said.

“This body sits outside of the remit of both the Conservative Party and Fylde Conservative Association. Therefore we cannot conclude that there has been a misuse of Conservative Party funds.

“However, we do believe that there has been a pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs and individuals looking after donations to local campaign funds which lie outside the direct jurisdiction of the Conservative Party.

“We will therefore be commencing with retraining individuals across the party on how to manage these accounts which fall outside of the remit of the Conservative Party and are introducing a whistleblowing helpline.”

They continued: “Furthermore, whilst outside of the initial scope of this investigation, there has also been a recommendation that the actions of the MP in question have also potentially breached the Nolan principals of public life.”

“This is due to the nature of the allegations made, but also the repetitive nature of these separate allegations. These will be reviewed by the Conservative Party’s member governance team.

“We will of course share any information with the police if they believe it would be helpful to any investigation they decide to undertake.

“Suggestions the party has not been seriously examining this matter are demonstrably false as we have worked to protect the identities of all those involved whilst the facts could be established.”

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