Childcare funding 'will create 9,000 places'
Thousands of childcare places for pre-school children in England will be created under a £50m scheme, the government has announced.
The scheme will help to deliver a government pledge to offer three and four-year-olds in England 30 hours of free care a week in term time.
Nearly 9,000 early years places are expected to be created.
But critics said the funding was "woefully short of what was needed" and would only benefit a few providers.
The Department for Education said that almost 200 nurseries and pre-schools would benefit from the funding pot, allowing them to invest in new buildings, upgrade old ones and improve facilities.
Initially, £2m of the public money will be invested in six "opportunity areas" - places considered by the government to be falling behind on social mobility.
These are Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough and West Somerset.
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Education Secretary Justine Greening said: "We want Britain to be a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
"That means removing the barriers facing parents who are struggling to balance their jobs with the cost of childcare, and spreading the opportunities available to hard-working families across the country.
"This funding, backed by our record £6bn investment in childcare per year by 2020, means we can make more free places available to more families across the country, helping us to deliver our childcare offer to thousands more children."
Under the current system, all three and four-year-olds in England, as well as disadvantaged two-year-olds, are eligible for 15 free hours of childcare a week in school term time.
This is due to be doubled to 30 hours nationwide later this year.
Early years providers have raised concerns about the move, warning that nurseries and other childcare providers need more money from government in order to meet the 30 free hours offer.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "While today's announcement will undoubtedly be welcomed by the 200 early years providers who will be benefiting... for the tens of thousands of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders who won't, the challenges ahead remain unchanged.
"With many providers warning that they will need to reduce the number of places they offer in order to deliver the 30-hour scheme, it's clear that the government is going to have a real capacity problem on its hands when the offer rolls out in September.
"If the 30-hour scheme is to have any chance of succeeding, the government must invest what is needed - both in terms of creating capacity for new places and ensuring that the delivery of existing places is funded at a fair and sustainable rate over the long term."
Labour's early years spokeswoman Tulip Siddiq said: "Any additional funding is welcome but this is woefully short of what is needed to deliver the government's underfunded childcare plans.
"The Tories still have no strategy to raise the quality of childcare or ensure the sustainability of childcare providers, who are struggling to deliver their underfunded 30 free hours promise.
"The Tory record on childcare is one of fewer Sure Start centres, rising childcare costs and parents waiting for much-needed support.
"They are failing hard-working families and it's our children and the economy that will pay the price."