Balls to unveil childcare plan
Working parents will receive 25 hours of free childcare a week under a Labour government for any children they have aged three and four, Ed Balls will pledge today.
The shadow chancellor intends to increase the number of hours covered by state funding to households where single parents or both parents in a couple hold down jobs.
%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%It comes on top of Labour's pledge at the start of its autumn conference in Brighton to provide wraparound care through schools to help ease the childcare burden for families.
Mr Balls will make the announcement in a speech to activists where he will also attempt to underline the party's "iron discipline" on spending in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
He today dismissed as "nonsense" Conservative claims of a £27.9 billion "black hole" in Labour's tax-and-spend plans, telling ITV1's Daybreak: "There are no uncosted spending commitments. There will be no more day-to-day borrowing from Labour in 2015."
And he called on Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to offer cross-party support for minor changes to the charter of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which would allow the spending watchdog to audit the tax-and-spend promises in Labour's manifesto.
Mr Balls told Daybreak: "We think this is something we can get cross-party support for, to say that the Government and the opposition should have that independent scrutiny and audit, so when we say in our manifesto this is our tax promise or our spending commitment, we can show the sums add up, but also the independent OBR can say they have certified and scrutinised that.
"It's about rebuilding trust in politics. There is cross-party support for the OBR and I want this to be for governments and oppositions. I am confident that when the Government thinks about this they will give us that cross-party support."
Conservative Treasury minister Sajid Javid said: "Ed Balls knows this is not allowed under the Budget Responsibilty Act and the OBR's charter, so this is just a stunt to try and distract attention from the fact that Labour have been found out for making unfunded commitments that would just mean more borrowing and more debt."
Mr Balls will use his conference speech to outline how Labour will tackle the so-called "cost of living crisis" by reforming spending priorities.
That includes increasing free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working families while the 15-hour early years entitlement will remain universal, all funded through an increase in the bank levy.
Mr Balls is expected to tell conference: "Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure that, alongside family support and flexible working, should give parents the choice to stay at home with their children when they are very small and to balance work and family as they grow older.
"But for many families high childcare costs mean that it doesn't even add up to go to work. So to make work pay for families, we must act.
"Stephen Twigg set out yesterday how we will guarantee childcare is available for all primary school children from 8am to 6pm. But we need to do more for families with nursery age children too.
"Conference, after the financial crisis, it is right that the banks make a greater contribution. But in the last financial year, the banks paid a staggering £2.7 billion less in overall tax than they did in 2010. Over the last two years the Government's bank levy has raised £1.6 billion less than they said it would.
"At a time when resources are tight and families are under pressure that cannot be right. So I can announce today the next Labour government will increase the bank levy rate to raise an extra £800 million a year.
"And we will use the money, for families where all parents are in work, to increase free childcare places for three and four-year-olds from 15 hours to 25 hours a week.
"For the first time, parents will be able to work part-time without having to worry about the cost of childcare. Making work pay, tackling the cost-of-living crisis, a radical transformation in the provision of childcare in our country."
Mr Balls will tell activists the party must show how its policies are costed and funded, saying the "B ritish people rightly want to know that the sums add up".
Earlier this year the party set out plans to claw back cash by stripping the wealthiest pensioners of their winter fuel allowance payment. The shadow chancellor will concede that Labour will face more tough choices and admit that growth and jobs "cannot magic the whole deficit away at a stroke".
He is expected to say: "The Government's day-to-day spending totals for 2015/16 will have to be our starting point. Any changes to the current spending plans for that year will be fully funded and set out in advance in our manifesto.
"There will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. And we will set out tough fiscal rules - to balance the current budget and get the national debt on a downward path.
"Of course Labour will always make different choices. We will combine iron discipline on spending control with a fairer approach to deficit reduction.
"And with our zero-based review - a review of every pound spent by government from the bottom up - Rachel Reeves and my shadow cabinet colleagues have begun the work of identifying savings so that we can switch resources to Labour's priorities.
"But we won't be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises the Tories have pushed through. And we will have to govern with less money around. The next Labour government will have to make cuts too.
"Because while jobs and growth are vital to getting the deficit down - something this Government has never understood - they cannot magic the whole deficit away at a stroke."
Mr Balls told the Press Association: "It's perfectly possible and quite right the independent Office for Budget Responsibility should audit and check the costings of Government and prospective government policies and that's why we are saying actually for the first time ever for a political party, everything in our manifesto - tax and spending - will be independently checked.
"Look, it's going to be very hard in our next manifesto because there is going to be less money to go around, we will be cutting spending, not raising it but where we can show different choices I want those to be audited.
"I believe this change is easy to make, it can be done, it will have cross-party support, already the Conservative chair of the Treasury Select Committee has supported it and I think rather than playing silly and childish political games maybe Treasury ministers should start doing the right thing for the country."
When questioned if a change in the law would be required to allow independent scrutiny of Labour's plans, Mr Balls said: "We will look at these things with the OBR now, who I spoke to yesterday, to make sure we work out exactly what needs to be done. We believe it doesn't require a change in the law. It may require one or two words to be added - 'prospective government' - into the OBR charter.
"But if we are going to rebuild trust in politics and show that every party's policies have been properly scrutinised, so when I say we will promise more childcare for families people can see independently the sums add up, we should make this change. I think it can be done, it will be done, I hope we can have cross-party support, it's the right thing to do to reassure the public."
Mr Balls said all proposals announced at the party's conference will be "clear and costed" and for the 2015 manifesto.
He said: "What I am saying today, we will raise the bank levy and use that to spend £800 million increasing childcare for working parents from 15 to 25 hours to make work pay. That adds up, it's costed, it's paid for, it's the right thing to do and I want the OBR to independently organise and scrutinise what we're saying so they can reassure the public the kind of silly Tory games we've seen in the last couple of days actually don't add up."
Mr Balls sought to shrug off business opposition to plans announced yesterday to require big companies to create an apprenticeship post for every non-EU worker they hire.
"The fact you don't always get a 100% reaction from some businesses or from some banks or from some energy companies to a Labour policy probably tells you that Labour is setting out clear, detailed, tough policies which will work for working families, many of whom will feel they have had a pretty bad deal from banks and energy companies and some businesses," he said.
Conservatives branded the plan "unworkable" because EU law would require the apprenticeships to be open to nationals of any of the bloc's 28 member states.
But Mr Balls said: "The Conservative Party seems to be saying it would be stopped by the European Union. What a weak and lame excuse from this Tory Government. We should get on and make sure we get apprenticeships for young people."
Mr Balls said the recent run of positive GDP figures was "good news", but accused Chancellor George Osborne of complacency for assuming that the current growth will last.
The shadow chancellor told LBC 97.3 radio: "After three wasted years when we've had no growth, it's good to finally get some growth back.
"In 2010 I predicted we would choke off the recovery if we adopted George Osborne's plan and that's exactly what happened.
"In the last three years, we've had terrible growth. George Osborne said the deficit would come down to £18 billion - it's going to be £90 billion. For families up and down the country, prices are rising faster than wages. They are worse off.
"The fact is George Osborne's damage, that flat-lining, went on longer than I expected. And even now when there's growth, is it growth that's going to last? Is it secure and strong? Is it going to work for working families?
"I think that George Osborne going out boasting that his plan has worked, when everybody knows it didn't work and for working families it's still not working, sounds absolutely complacent and out of touch."
OBR chairman Robert Chote said: " It is for Parliament to decide what the remit of the OBR should be and it is highly desirable that there should be a cross-party consensus on that.
"If Parliament did want us to undertake this role, then there would be a number of practical issues to address. Among them, we would need to ensure that we had adequate internal resources to do the job, as well as guaranteed access to the necessary data and analytical expertise within Whitehall, as we have when scrutinising the Government's policies."
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