David Cameron 180David Cameron has highlighted a Conservative pledge to provide nine million more hours of free childcare a week for parents of three and four-year-olds as part of the new government's opening policies.

Ahead of hosting his first cabinet since winning the General Election last week [9 May], the Prime Minister said he would double the free childcare allocation from 15 to 30 hours per week.

All households where both parents work more than eight hours a week will be eligible - benefiting to the tune of £5,000 a year.

He said: "I want to set out the shocking situation we inherited - where, in Labour's Britain, some of the poorest people faced some of the highest marginal rates of taxation.

"Where couples were spending as much on childcare as one of them took home in earnings. Where, quite simply, work didn't pay. And I want to set out how we, the Conservative Party, have been using all the tools at our disposal - the tax and benefit system; childcare and the Minimum Wage, to turn that around.

"This goes to the heart of the country we are trying to build: One based on the principle of something for something, not something for nothing - where those who put in, get out, where hard work is rewarded - where we make work pay."

It will be funded by reducing the tax relief on pension contributions for people earning more than £150,000.

However, the plans have faced criticism from the Pre-school Learning Alliance and the National Day Nurseries Association, with both questioning whether the promise will be financially viable after highlighting continuing struggles faced by the sector with the current levels of free childcare entitlement.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “Although in theory any steps taken to improve the availability of childcare are positive, we would seriously question how feasible this pledge is in practice.

“At the moment, government funding does not cover the cost of delivering 15 hours of childcare for three- and four-year-olds, and so it has been left to providers and parents to make up the shortfall. It is difficult to see, therefore, how plans to double the current offer without addressing this historic underfunding can be implemented without leading to even higher childcare costs, or risking the sustainability of the sector altogether.

“Given that only a few months ago, we were told that it was ‘nonsense’ to suggest that the early years sector is underfunded, we warmly welcome the commitment to raise local funding rates. That said, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to commit to doubling the free entitlement offer before consulting with providers to find out the size of the current funding shortfall. While this is clearly an attractive pre-election pledge, it must be adequately costed if it is to succeed in the long-term.”