THE education minister had a whistle-stop tour of the region as the government launched its tax-free childcare system.

Damian Hinds called into Action for Children’s Spring nursery in Stockton for a cup of tea and a biscuit with some of the children who are using the centre during the half-term holidays.

About 90,000 working families in the North-East with children under 12 can now apply for up to £2,000 of childcare support per child, per year.

Parents, including the self-employed, can apply online for the allowance by visiting Childcare Choices.

Announcing the new scheme, Liz Truss, chief secretary to the treasury, said: “Tax-free childcare will cut thousands of pounds from childcare bills and is good news for working parents.

“More parents will be able to work if they want to and this demonstrates our commitment to helping families with the cost of living.

“All eligible parents with children under 12 can now apply through Childcare Choices and should take advantage of the available support.”

While in the region, Mr Hinds also visited the constituency of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke to speak with school leaders in Guisborough.

Mr Clarke said: “Nothing matters more than giving our children a great education. Nationally, it’s really good news that 1.9 million more pupils are being taught in good or outstanding schools compared to 2010. In east Cleveland, we need to carry our strong performance at primary onto secondary level.

“I was really pleased to bring Damian to Prior Pursglove for one of his first visits after his appointment last month to meet our dedicated local heads and hear about the situation on Teesside.”

Linda Halbert, the chief executive officer of the Teesside Learning Trust, said: “We’re passionate about making sure every child on Teesside gets the best possible start in life.

“It was great to have the new education secretary in the room to discuss how we raise attainment and we’re delighted Simon asked him to come to Guisborough.”

Anyone wanting further information about Childcare Choices should visit