Almost 12,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds in Devon and Cornwall will get free access to nursery school places, the Liberal Democrats will announce today.
Town halls are to be given £100 million to spend on new nursery places in a bid to ensure poor families can take advantage of a government guarantee of free childcare, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.
From September next year, 130,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will qualify for 15 hours a week, with the number set to double the following year – at a cost of £760 million a year.
In Devon and Cornwall, 3,700 two-year-olds will be eligible in the first year, and 7,900 in the next.
But the expected surge in demand means around 100,000 extra places will be required as local authorities deal with the new legal obligation to cater for the worst-off households.
They will be expected to use the cash – found from underspends in the Department for Education (DfE) budget – to encourage existing providers to expand their operations and help others enter the market.
Officials hope it will give a kick-start to the market and persuade voluntary sector bodies and private firms to set up or expand nurseries, as well as boosting council provision.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "So much of a child's future is determined before they hang up their coats on their first day at school.
"It is vital that we do all we can to make sure a child's potential isn't determined by the circumstances of their birth. That is why we will give thousands of two-year-olds access to free early years education over the coming years.
"Good-quality early education gives children a head-start before they even start school."