Scotland

Most Scottish councils cannot commit to nursery hours target

pippa
Image caption Pippa's parents say they will struggle to afford full-time nursery provision

Just six Scottish councils say they will definitely commit to providing the number of free nursery hours they had planned before coronavirus hit.

A pledge to double the number of hours - to 1,140 a year - was one of the Scottish government's key pledges.

But the Covid-19 pandemic meant councils were told they no longer had to meet the August deadline.

BBC Scotland asked all 32 councils if they would be able to meet the commitment by August.

DEFINITELY PROVIDING 1,140 HOURS TO ALL BY AUGUST

  • Angus
  • Argyll & Bute
  • Dumfries& Galloway
  • East Renfrewshire
  • Inverclyde
  • North Lanarkshire

CAN'T COMMIT TO PROVIDING 1,140 TO ALL BY AUGUST

  • Aberdeen City
  • Aberdeenshire
  • East Lothian
  • Edinburgh
  • Falkirk
  • Fife
  • Glasgow
  • Highland
  • Midlothian
  • Moray
  • North Ayrshire
  • Orkney
  • Renfrewshire
  • Scottish Borders
  • Shetland Islands
  • South Ayrshire
  • South Lanarkshire
  • West Dunbartonshire
  • West Lothian

UNSURE

  • Clackmannanshire
  • Dundee City
  • East Ayrshire
  • East Dunbartonshire
  • Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council)
  • Perth & Kinross
  • Stirling

Before the pandemic, Scotland's 32 local authorities had a statutory duty to increase from the current provision of 600 hours of free pre-school education a year to 1,140 for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds from August.

But ministers and council leaders agreed it was "not realistic or reasonable" for the original timescale to remain.

The Scottish government said this was a pause on the commitment not a stop.

Minister for childcare Maree Todd said a decision on when the policy would come in would not be made until the end of this year.

'It is going to get difficult'

Image caption Emma and David said the childcare extension was vital for them

Pippa is three years old and has already been receiving the 1,140 hours a year of free nursery care as part of a pilot project in Aberdeenshire.

Like most other children she has been home during the pandemic.

Her parents David and Emma were hoping she would be going back to full-time nursery soon but now the commitment has been dropped and they are in limbo.

David said: "For us it is the difference between affording to be able to put the kids into nursery and making some money or not - one of us working essentially for free.

"As lockdown ends, I have already had to go into the office some days, Emma's work might expect her to go in, so if the kids can't go into nursery or we can't afford to put them in full-time, it is going to get difficult as the weeks and months go on."

Changed their business models

Private childcare providers were also relying on the extra funding coming their way.

Jane Malcolm, from the National Day Nurseries Association, said some members were finding it "challenging" if they were not in a local authority that had committed to delivering 1,140 by August.

"Thinking they were going to deliver 1,140 meant they had recruited new staff and changed their business models," she said.

"They had put in a lot of changes around providing those extra hours. It really has unsettled some, financially as well as practically."

She said that coupled with the impact of coronavirus, there was a real possibility some nurseries would "go under".