Secretary of State Gillian Keegan has been in Totnes this afternoon to mark the first official programme update for the what is billed as ‘the largest ever expansion of free childcare in England’.

She was visiting Daisy and Rainbow Childcare with local MP Anthony Mangnall.

Gillian Keegan said: “We’re delighted to announce we’ve got 195,000 places for two year olds which has exceeded our target.

I asked her what she would do about a shortage of places even when there is funding?:

“We’ve been making sure that we put the money in and train the people.

“We’ve also got £100m of capital which can be used to expand, to get a new floor etc.”

On recruiting staff she said:

“We’ve made sure there is enough money not only for that entry level but also to progress within the sector.

“I’m convinced after working with 9,000 businesses to get it right, we know it’s going well.

Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP with children from the nursery
Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP with children from the nursery (Richard Harding)

When it comes to teenagers, what help could the government offer there?:

“Of course we need to ensure that children get a great start, they go to a great start and most of the schools in this area are good or outstanding, they get lots of options for the next stage so we’ve been round lots of looking at new skill centres, new colleges and investment in colleges but also youth services. “

Finally I wanted to know if she thought that the Conservatives could win the election?:

“Elections are always the most difficult things ever to call.

“The thing about the polling is a lot of people say they don’t know and it’s clear that we have a plan and we’re getting on and trying to implement the plan.

“We have had difficult times such as Covid and world wars to deal with and with childcare we’ll make sure that parents don’t have to make the choice between having a family and a career.

CEO of Daisy and Rainbow Childcare Deborah Oakey
CEO of Daisy and Rainbow Childcare Deborah Oakey (Richard Harding)

CEO of Daisy and Rainbow Childcare Deborah Oakey met the Secretary of State but wasn’t entirely convinced. She said:

“I think we’ve had an opportunity to share our views and it’s been nice to meet the Secretary of State for Education in person and get our views straight to the top.

“I’m not sure we’ve learn a lot from the experience that we didn’t already know but I hope she’s learnt something from us.

“It was interesting to hear that the levels offered by the government aren’t as high here in Devon because of the funding formula and that clearly makes a big difference to us.

“We would really like to petition for the lower rates for three and four year olds to be increased.

“I think the rates for the two-year olds and the under two’s could be seen as fair but for the three and four year old’s, that’s the one that’s crippling us and has done over the last few years.

Deborah explained that the national average for under two’s was going to be £11.22 but here in Devon it would be just £9.60.