Disadvantaged families could miss out on much-needed funding and support after it emerged that the coalition's £1bn flagship scheme to provide free nursery education for two-year-olds will be funded by raiding money earmarked for local authority Sure Start schemes.
Councils could be left with a shortfall of up to 20% in their early intervention plans next year, threatening the existence of hundreds of projects such as parent and toddler schemes, parenting projects, short breaks for disabled children, and initiatives that support the government's troubled families programme.
One senior councillor told the Guardian that the potential cuts to its Sure Start and family recovery services as a result of the funding raid would be "brutal".
Nick Clegg recently announced £100m of one-off capital funding to enable nurseries to build extra capacity, in response to fears that there would not be enough places across the UK to meet growing demand.
The Liberal Democrat leader revealed this cash would come out of the Department for Education's current capital budget.
However, it has now materialised that ministers intend to fund the day-to-day running costs of the nursery scheme by top-slicing hundreds of millions of pounds from the early intervention grant, which is currently used to pay for a host of schemes including Sure Start centres.
Although a spokesperson for the Department for Education said the funding switch would fulfil a long-standing commitment to roll out free early education for two-year-olds, Cllr Richard Watts, executive member for children and families at Islington Council, maintains the way the money is to be acquired will be detrimental to families in need.
He said: "However much the government tries to use creative accountancy to cover their tracks, the fact of the matter is that the money to pay for two-year-olds' childcare is being taken from the money councils were given to run Sure Start children's centres and support so-called troubled families."
All children under school age are entitled to free nursery places at some point,with all three and four year olds currently entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education per week for at least 38 weeks of the year, during term times.
Childcare costs can take a huge chunk out of your monthly budget, so any chance to receive free care is not to be sniffed at.
However, Labour MP Graham Allen said that although the new free nursery scheme was a good idea, funding it by taking cash out of other preventative social programmes "flew in the face" of ministerial promises and could lead to disproportionate cuts in vital services.