Scotland's childcare expansion 'about to implode', nurseries warn

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Freedom of Information responses obtained by the Scottish Conservatives reveal concerns from councils and providers about the government’s childcare expansion plans for 1,140 hours.

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In emails sent to local authorities and the Scottish government, nursery providers warn that they are ‘fighting for survival’ and that they are ‘on their knees’, with the policy ‘about to implode’.

Currently all three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds are entitled to 600 hours a year of funded childcare, but this will almost double to 1,140 hours by 2020 - the equivalent of the 30 hours childcare scheme operating in England.

The documents that have been released also include a briefing by Scottish government civil servants citing a range of private providers’ concerns, including: lower rates paid to partner providers, a lack of engagement and access to capital funding, and a lack of involvement in the expansion to 1,140 hours.

Four councils were highlighted by civil servants as areas where providers raised the most issues: Glasgow, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire.

One childcare provider wrote, ‘Unless the Government steps in and sorts this out very quickly the whole project is going to collapse. It is abundantly clear that local authorities are not fully inclusive with partners on their plans. There is a large unity among partners and they are planning to abstain from joining the 1,140 hours’ expansion.’

Earlier this year a report by Audit Scotland, Scotland's spending watchdog, warned of 'significant risks' to doubling the funded hours by 2020, saying that it would require a large increase in the number of childcare staff and changes to premises, which would be difficult to achieve in the time available.

Alison Harris, Scottish Conservative children and young people spokesman said, ‘This childcare expansion was launched to huge fanfare, but it is clearer by the day that the SNP has no ability to deliver it.

‘The SNP cannot deliver this policy without childcare providers and they are telling us that they cannot survive on the current rates.

‘The SNP is driving nurseries to breaking point due to low rates, lack of engagement and lack of access to capital funding.

‘The SNP must sort out this mess urgently or childcare providers will be driven out of business and parents relying on this policy will be devastated.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said, ‘Our members are very concerned that the current situation with funded childcare in Scotland means that they won’t even survive to the expansion in 2020.

‘But now they also have to battle against a public sector capital funding programme taking place in many local authorities. Councils are building new nurseries or extending existing ones. This duplication of provision is a waste of resources and undermines those high-quality nurseries which are already part of the community.

‘NDNA Scotland is very concerned about this situation. We are having meetings with senior civil servants about sustainability of our nurseries. We have also agreed partnership working principles with Cosla to make this working relationship more productive and meaningful. It’s crucial that all local authorities work with private providers on an equal footing for this policy to be successful.

‘For the ambitious plans in Scotland to come to fruition, the Scottish government must work closely with private and third sector providers as they are the ones who can offer high quality, flexible provision to working parents.’

According to NDNA Scotland’s survey earlier this year, funding rates are so low that only 7 per cent of those surveyed said they would be able to deliver the 1,140 hours, while 79 per cent of private and third sector nurseries said that that the funding doesn’t cover their costs, with an average annual loss of £1,188 per child.

In response, minister for children and young People Maree Todd said, ‘We expect local authorities and early learning and childcare providers to work together meaningfully to deliver the funded entitlement. While there are already good examples of partnership working across Scotland, we know there is a need for this to be strengthened in some areas. This is why we have established an ELC Partnership Forum with COSLA, bringing local authorities and providers together, driving improvement in partnership working.

‘The landmark funding agreement for the expansion reached by Scottish Government and COSLA in April to fully fund this policy includes funding for the payment of sustainable rates to providers from 2020. This means that the hourly rates paid to providers across the country will significantly increase.’

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