'Unfair' childcare policy restricts nursery access, Reform Scotland says
Unfair childcare policies which restrict access for pre-schoolers should change, a think-tank has said.
Reform Scotland said parents should be able to use their government-funded nursery provision at all nurseries which meet the required standards.
It has called for the introduction of a "virtual voucher" to help parents access their full entitlement.
The Scottish government offers all three and four-year-olds 600 hours of funded nursery provision per year.
However, many parents cannot find suitable places at council nurseries.
Some local authorities allow parents to use their child's entitlement to attend a private "partnership" nursery while others, such as Glasgow, limit the number of "partnership" places available.
Reform Scotland wants parents to be able to use their "virtual vouchers" at all nurseries which meet Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate standards.
In a briefing note on the issue, Reform Scotland said: "It is unfair on both parents and children for the Scottish government to set a policy, but allow local authorities to restrict the ability of parents to access that vital provision.
"It is not an excuse to argue that you have provided enough places in local authority nurseries if parents are unable to access those places because the hours or location on offer make it impossible to take up."
Research director Alison Payne said: "This is not about the private sector versus the public sector but acknowledging that most council nurseries do not provide the full-time care that working parents need, and therefore for all children to be guaranteed to receive government-funded nursery provision the money must follow the child.
"We have a simple suggestion - if an independent nursery meets the Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate standards, parents should by right be able to take their full government-funded entitlement there as a 'virtual voucher'.
"This is not radical and already happens in some areas in Scotland. However, Reform Scotland believes that this should extend to all working families in Scotland."
A Scottish government spokesman said: "The Children and Young People Act set out to significantly expand free childcare provision and increase flexibility, year on year.
"Local authorities are now required to consult with groups of parents at least once every two years on patterns of childcare provision that would best meet their needs, which will introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice to the system as we work with local government to further develop and expand provision."
A spokeswoman for Fair Funding For Our Kids, a parent-led campaign group, said: "There are parents in our group who have turned down work because they cannot get the childcare their children have been promised. We estimate thousands of kids in Scotland are missing out but the Scottish government has been slow to act."
"Many of the proposals from Reform Scotland are practical and could make a difference almost immediately. We hope Angela Constance will give them serious consideration."
Scottish Conservative young people spokesman Liz Smith said: "It is abundantly clear that many state-funded nurseries are not able to provide parents with sufficient flexibility when it comes to nursery place provision.
"We have seen several parents groups across Scotland expressing very considerable concern about this situation and about the ongoing concern that children whose birthdays fall in the 'wrong' time of year do not get the same provision as others.
"This discrimination needs to stop."