Private nursery concern over cost of free places

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Image caption Pre-school children are currently entitled to 600 hours a year of free nursery provision

Private nurseries in Scotland are not receiving enough cash to meet the cost of free places for three and four-year-olds, it has been claimed.

The National Day Nurseries Association said many of the nurseries may not help to provide the additional nursery care the Scottish government is planning.

If re-elected, the SNP wants to double the current 16 hours-a-week provision.

About 86% of private nurseries in Scotland currently deliver free places for three and four-year-olds.

Many toddlers, including all three and four-year-olds are entitled to 600 hours a year of free nursery provision.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has claimed that private nurseries typically get about £40,000 a year less than the true cost from councils.

They can recoup this through the fees charged for younger children or from additional hours.

'Enormous shortfall'

The association said many nurseries do not feel confident about offering more free hours in the future.

Launching its annual nursery survey, NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: "This enormous shortfall is a huge burden on private and third sector nurseries.

"They have no choice but to try to absorb these costs themselves or pass them onto parents by increasing fees for additional hours or for younger children.

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"Their main concern is that if free early learning and childcare is expanded, far fewer parents will need any additional hours, so they will struggle to make up this shortfall, especially with the National Living Wage being introduced next month."

She added: "The vast majority of nurseries are small businesses and can't afford these losses. They want to offer parents these free hours, but at the same time they have to be sustainable. Almost half of the nurseries who responded expected only to break even, with 11% expecting a loss.

"Nursery owners are keen to support families and make free childcare a success for everyone, but need to know their costs will be covered."

According to the survey, only half of respondent nurseries would be likely to extend their funded hours and 22% were unlikely, or very unlikely, to increase the amount of funded places they offered.

'Needs of the child'

Council organisation Cosla said it was not the role of councils to offer public money to achieve a profit for private nurseries.

Education spokeswoman Councillor Stephanie Primrose said: "Councils have a responsibility to ensure the quality of the provision, but also to ensure that good value is achieved from the public pound.

"It is also a pity that no account is taken in the campaign of those costs that NDNA members don't have to bear, because of the free or subsidised support provided by councils in terms of training and awareness-raising for private provider staff.

"NDNA members enter into partnerships with councils of their own volition, so there should be absolutely no expectation that council commissioning or procurement processes to contract for the provision of early learning and childcare services will focus on the needs of their businesses, rather than the needs of the child."

Children's Minister Aileen Campbell said: "We have provided an additional £500m since 2014 to fully fund the extra costs of expanding free early learning and childcare to almost 16 hours a week - 45% more than in 2007 - and extending this entitlement to around 27% of two-year-olds.

"We will continue to increase funding year-on-year to support increasing flexibility and choice and we would fully expect local authorities to fund partner providers appropriately to support the delivery of high-quality provision."

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