Coronavirus hits Scotland's childcare expansion

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Scotland’s councils have been released of the legal obligation to double free childcare provision.

The local authorities had a statutory duty to provide 1,140 hours of free pre-school education to eligible pupils from August.

But ministers and council leaders have agreed it is “not realistic or reasonable” for the original timescale to remain in the wake of the pandemic.

No date has been given for when it will be made a legal obligation again.

Earlier this month, Audit Scotland said the plan was on track but that thousands more nursery staff were still needed and half the building work was not yet complete.

Children's Minister Maree Todd and councillor Stephen McCabe, children’s spokesman for council umbrella group Cosla, issued a joint statement announcing the change.

'Exceptional circumstances'

It said: “Before the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, Audit Scotland confirmed we were on track to deliver 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare from August.

“Our commitment to delivering the expansion remains undimmed.

“However, in these exceptional circumstances it is not realistic or reasonable to expect that local authorities can deliver their original expansion plans in time for August this year.”

The statement added that nursery recruitment drives and building work had been stopped by the virus outbreak.

In addition, a lot of council resources are being deployed in the immediate response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is not clear at this stage if councils that were further ahead than others preparing for the August deadline will still go ahead with the change in provision from 600 to 1,140 hours, even if there is no legal obligation to do so.