The children and families minister has hailed the government’s “single largest investment ever” in childcare support, despite a nursery provider director revealing that low staff wages meant jobs at Tesco were seen as more desirable.

Minister Claire Coutinho visited Bright Horizons’ Didcot Day Nursery and PreSchool this afternoon to speak to nursery staff about the government’s “radical” £900 million programme of investment in childcare support.

The investment, which kicks in from June 28, will see low income families able to claim more money back from childcare costs, with parents on universal credit able to claim up to £951 for one child and £1,630 for two or more children.

Oxford Mail: MP David Johnston speaks to a child at the nurseryMP David Johnston speaks to a child at the nursery (Image: Ed Halford)

However, critics of the government’s plans have suggested the programme for the new entitlements is too slow, as parents with children from nine months until the start of school will only receive up to 30 free hours from September 2025.

Ms Coutinho rejected claims the government was not acting quickly enough and said the timetable of action had been chosen to ensure “the right people were in place”.

She said: “We are acting quickly and some of the changes we made last week mean that people on the lowest income can get help on their childcare costs up front.

“This is the single largest investment ever in childcare.”

Oxford Mail: Minister Claire Coutinho and MP David Johnston chatting to nursery staffMinister Claire Coutinho and MP David Johnston chatting to nursery staff (Image: Ed Halford)

Ms Coutinho admitted there definitely had been a “challenge” with the recruitment of staff in the sector but said conversations with staff at the nursery had convinced her that these entitlements would work to solve any future staffing issues.

In a direct attack on the Labour Party, Ms Coutinho said the opposition had no plan and she accused shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves of being unwilling to “open up the purse strings” to set out a childcare plan.

With the government set to launch a recruitment campaign next year to the attract much needed talent to the sector, Ms Coutinho said the changes will continue to be consulted on.

Oxford Mail: Minister plays with children at the nurseryMinister plays with children at the nursery (Image: Ed Halford)

Wantage and Didcot MP David Johnston also accompanied the minister and spoke positively about the government’s new programme of action.

He said: "When I knock on doors each week, local parents tell me about the challenge of finding a good nursery, which is why it is so welcome that the government is making the largest single investment ever into childcare.

"It will be worth an average of £6,500 per year, every year to families for their children from maternity to the start of school."

Despite the funding boost, Iain Colledge, executive director of Bright Horizons, said recruiting staff had become “very difficult” as working at nurseries was “stressful”.

He said: “The pool of staff is saturated across the country.

“When we are paying staff at minimum wage with all the challenge and responsibility which comes with that, many see getting a job at Tesco for three or more pounds as more desirable as it comes with less responsibility”.

Mr Colledge said enticing the right people into the sector had become problematic, but said the new funding should have a very positive impact.

He said: “The government has put out a consultation which will lead to positive support for nurseries.

“It is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.”

Mr Colledge warned the waiting lists for nursery places would remain high unless the government helps with the lack of qualified staff.

CEO of Early Years Alliance Neil Leitch said there was an issue with “capacity in the sector” and questioned why the government had only acted now when “parents have been struggling for years”.

Mr Leitch echoed Mr Colledge’s concerns about staff and said: “People are leaving the sector and we have a retention crisis which we have never seen before.

“They feel undervalued and can earn more in a supermarket stacking shelves than they can working in the sector as it is.”

Early Years Alliance is an educational charity which supports nurseries across England.

The Department for Education has launched a consultation in England which aims to remove unnecessary burdens the childcare sector face.

From this September, the government has said the hourly rates paid to providers to deliver free childcare for two-year-olds will increase by 30 per cent from an average rate of £6 to £8.

From April 2024, working parents of two year olds will be able to have 15 free hours of childcare and 15 hours will also be available for parents of children from nine months till school from September 2024.

Shadow chancellor of the exchequer Rachel Reeves has been approached for comment.