Scotland politics

Campaigners question Scottish childcare pledge

children painting Image copyright Thinkstock

A campaign group has questioned how the Scottish government's flagship pledge on childcare will be delivered.

The first minister has promised an expansion in free childcare if the SNP is voted back into power next year.

It would see the number of hours eligible youngsters receive being nearly doubled to 1,140 a year over the course of the next parliament.

But Fair Funding For Our Kids claimed about 26,000 extra nursery places would be needed for that to be fulfilled.

The group said it had met Education Secretary Angela Constance on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

But it claimed Ms Constance had been "unable to answer basic questions" about how she planned to ensure the childcare pledge was met.

'Reassure parents'

The Scottish government said the figures estimated by Fair Funding for Our Kids assumed that "nothing will change between now and 2020 to deliver this increase in funded hours and fail to take account of Scotland's 5,500 childminders."

A spokeswoman said: "They also assume that doubling the hours of free childcare available will mean that we will need to double the number of childcare places.

"This is not true. We can reassure parents that preparations are well underway to deliver this massive expansion of 1,140 hours and ensure a place for every eligible child."

She said delivery of the pledge would cost about £800m and result in a significant increase in the early years workforce, and said the government was working with councils to plan for a "significant infrastructure expansion" to meet the increased demand.

Council nurseries, private nurseries and childminders currently provide the government-funded childcare that all three and four-year-olds and some vulnerable two-year-olds already receive.

Jenny Gorevan, of Fair Funding For Our Kids (Glasgow), said an estimated one in five youngsters was missing out on the current entitlement and added: "How will the first minister deliver this new, bigger promise if she cannot even give children what they are entitled to now?"

'Basic sum'

She added: "We added up all the nursery places in Scotland. If every single place was used to meet the first minister's 2020 promise there would still be a shortfall of around 26,000.

"The most basic sum tells you the 2020 promise needs a minimum of 650 new nurseries and 3,250 new nursery staff from nowhere within four years.

"That is before you factor in variations in demand, staff retirement, geographical spread, parents wanting to pay for two-year-olds not eligible for a free place and so on. The real numbers are likely to be much, much higher."

Ms Gorevan was speaking as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a new best practice standard for childminders to ensure children are left "in the best possible hands".

While all childminders have to be registered and inspected, they do not have to have any qualifications to gain registration.

But in future it is expected the new training and induction course, which will be developed with the Care Inspectorate, will be completed by childminders before they register.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Childminders play a vital role in children's development, which helps to reduce social inequality and close the attainment gap.

"They will be central to our ambitions for a massive expansion of early learning and childcare in the years to come."

The first minister, who visited a childminder in Edinburgh, added: "As recently highlighted, well-trained, supported and suitably qualified staff are fundamental to improving quality and have a key role in addressing our most entrenched problems of poverty, poor health and poor attainment.

"These new standards will help drive up quality and ensure parents can rest assured that their children are in the best possible hands."