During a debate in Scottish Parliament yesterday, Conservative MSPs argued that the government’s plans are behind schedule and there is danger it will not be able to deliver on its promise of 1,140 hours of free childcare from August 2020 – an accusation the Scottish Government denied.
- Scotland's childcare expansion about to implode, nurseries warn
- Survey reveals falling confidence in 1,140 childcare scheme
According to responses to a freedom of information request sent to local authorities by the Scottish Conservatives, 83 per cent of council nurseries are currently unable to deliver the extended offer for three- and four-year-olds.
The political party told ministers there is an expectation private nurseries will cover the shortfall in places, however there are ‘profound and growing concerns’ regarding the lack of support and engagement with these settings.
Scottish Conservative children and young people’s spokesperson, Alison Harris, also warned that private nurseries are facing ‘huge uncertainty’ over staff recruitment, funding rates and access to capital funding.
She said they are hearing more and more examples of businesses either pulling out of ‘impossible’ partnerships with local authorities to deliver the 1,140 hours or settings closing down all together.
Ms Harris went on to say, ‘Hardly anything has improved since nurseries raised serious concerns regarding the expansion of childcare last year.
‘The SNP [Scottish National Party] launched this policy to huge fanfare. They must get it right or parents will be bitterly disappointed.’
She called on the government to urgently address 'flaws' in its plan to double free childcare provision.
However, the children's minister Maree Todd said the Consevatives' claims were 'misleading in a number of ways'.
'Our target is to nearly double childcare to 1,140 hours from August 2020 – not now. The current entitlement is 600 hours and no provider has a legal obligation to offer 1,140 hours.
'Councils are expanding the offer between now and August 2020, allowing councils and providers to test the practicalities and gather feedback from parents.
'Our policy agreed with local government is that the expansion is ‘provider neutral’, meaning local authorities should use all kinds of ELC [early learning and childcare] provision to increase flexibility and choice for parents.'
Fair Funding for our Kids
Meanwhile, a parent campaign group, which fought for fairer funding for pre-school children in Scotland, announced its closure today (7 March).
Fair Funding for our Kids (FFFOK) was set-up in 2014 by parents in Glasgow frustrated that they could not access their funded childcare hours. The campaign was taken over by mums Katherine Sangster and Carolyn Lochhead two years later.
In a statement, Ms Sangster and Ms Lochhead, state, ‘We think now is the time to call it quits. With the 2020 deadline just a year away, it’s hard to focus attention on the problems that still exist in our childcare system. And by 2020, neither of us will have kids in nursery anymore.
‘We succeeded in our campaign in that we got childcare for working parents on to the political agenda. There have also been positive changes including councils moving away from the hated half-day place and an increase in funded hours to 1,140 – funding which will follow the child’.
‘But we hoped to see much faster change. We are acutely aware that there are still many parents being offered 9am-12.10pm places that they cannot make use of, therefore missing out on their funded hours.
'There are still parents who need their child to go to nursery in a different council area than the one they live in, but cannot get any local authority to accept responsibility for their needs.
'And there are plenty of parents who are just bamboozled by the whole impenetrable patchwork of local childcare services and can’t understand why it needs to be so complicated.’
They added, ‘If this experience has taught us anything, it’s that parent power is real. We are not throwing away the experience of Fair Funding for our Kids. We’re just putting it aside, ready for the next generation.’