Scotland politics

Scottish government's childcare plan 'needs 650 new nurseries' says Labour

Nursery child playing, generic Image copyright PA
Image caption Pre-school children are currently entitled to 600 free hours

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale claimed the government's free childcare promise could only be achieved by creating 650 new nurseries.

She highlighted the figure, from research by Fair Funding For Our Kids, during First Minister's Questions.

Nicola Sturgeon said "detailed work" was being done with councils to achieve the necessary places.

If re-elected, the SNP plans to double the current 16 hours-a-week provision which is currently on offer.

Ms Sturgeon said the government had already expanded the free childcare available for three and four-years-olds by 45%, from 412.5 hours in 2007 to 600 hours, as well as extending it to vulnerable two-years-olds.

It has also announced £1m for piloting different ways of delivering expanded childcare in response to a report by poverty advisor Naomi Eisenstadt which highlighted that 56% of children in poverty were living in working households.

However, Ms Dugdale said the policy was a "mess" and a "great big con".

She insisted that many parents were struggling to get a place for their child.

Image caption Kezia Dugdale: "Is she [Nicola Sturgeon] hoping parents are just too busy to notice?"
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon: "She [Kezia Dugdale} has to do more than whine from the opposition benches."

The MSP told Holyrood: "The campaign group Fair Funding For Our Kids estimate the equivalent of 650 new nurseries would have to be built to accommodate the extra places needed because of the first minister's latest pledge.

"By the first minister's own admission, it would cost £880m to deliver on her new pledge in running costs alone. Yet at the same time she is taking half a billion out of council budgets.

"Let's get this absolutely clear. The First Minister needs 650 new nurseries but she's cut the capital budget to build them."

Ms Dugdale added: "The first minister's childcare policy is a mess. Is she hoping parents are just too busy to notice?"

'Give an alternative'

Ms Sturgeon said the expansion plans were being worked on.

She explained: "It will be a mix of new build, that's why I've described it as the biggest capital investment or the most important capital investment, of the next parliament, but it will also involve existing buildings that local authorities already use. I've already said it will involve childminders."

Ms Sturgeon then challenged Ms Dugdale to set out Labour's childcare policy.

She said: "If Kezia Dugdale really wants to give people in this country a choice in just a few months' time, then she has to do more than whine from the opposition benches, she has to give an alternative and so far there ain't no alternative from the Labour Party whatsoever."

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