New Camden Council leader unveils plan for free childcare to boost economy

Sarah Hayward has been elected the new leader of Camden Council – and has unveiled groundbreaking plans to provide free childcare for all under sixes.

Cllr Hayward, who beat rivals Theo Blackwell and Tulip Siddiq to the top post, said the high cost of child care leaves many parents unable to work or train, condemning them to years of unemployment.

The 37-year-old said: “My main priority is to create a universally free system of childcare for all children from zero to five.

“That is going to take time and going to have to be introduced incrementally, but I think the impact the cost of childcare has on parents on low incomes is so critical this will have a substantial effect on people’s lives.

“The cost of living in Camden is incredibly high and hampers people’s access to work because they cannot afford to leave their child.

“The best way to tackle poverty is to get people into work. Our childcare scheme will encourage the economy.”

The policy is without parallel in England and its formulation signals the Labour council’s commitment to reasserting the borough’s reputation at the forefront of children’s services.

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But it is likely to mean cuts in other departments are pushed through to bankroll the scheme.

It will initially be targeted at low income families and will not be fully realised by the time the council is up for re-election in 2014.

The new leader said: “The big issue facing authorities like Camden at the moment is how we offer an alternative to the government agenda of cuts which have pushed the country back into recession.

“I want Camden to be at the forefront of providing an alternative. I think we can reassert ourselves.”

Since being elected to the council in 2010 as a member of the leading Labour group, Cllr Hayward has built a strong reputation as a campaigner and Town Hall speaker.

Most recently she has taken the lead on campaigning against the government’s controversial High Speed 2 rail link, which will condemn hundreds of Camden homes to be bulldozed.

The King’s Cross councillor, who lives with her husband in Kentish Town, triggered the leadership election after challenging outgoing leader, Cllr Nash Ali, a gamble that has now paid off.

Paying tribute to her predecessor, who has been given a new cabinet post working with young people, she said: “Nash has been a loyal servant to the borough. I am excited to be leader and I think there are massive challenges but also opportunities.”