Stirling Council to offer 600 hours of nursery care
Stirling Council is to increase the number of free nursery hours for pre-school children next year.
The local authority said parents of three and four-year-olds in the area would be offered 600 hours a year free from April.
The Scottish government intends to introduce the same measure across Scotland sometime in 2014.
The council said the increase in the current provision of 475 hours would save parents up to £682 a year.
It said it would be the first local authority in Scotland to introduce the increase, with the rollout due to begin in January when it will apply to looked-after two-year-olds in care.
'Tough economic times'
It will then be extended to all three and four-year-olds between April and August 2014.
The council claimed its phased introduction would start "well in advance of the Scottish government timetable".
The authority said that the hourly fee for care in a local council-run nursery was currently about £2.85 per child, while the rate for private providers was up to £5.46.
Johanna Boyd, leader of the Labour-run council, said the move would benefit up to 2,000 children and their families.
She added: "Our early introduction of 600 hours a year of free care will be a huge benefit for working parents.
"Scotland is facing tough economic times and this will help those in most need to save on childcare and to have the chance to earn the money they need to raise their families."
Plans to implement the increase nationwide from 475 to 600 hours are set out in the Children and Young People's Bill, which is due to go before the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee next week.
The Scottish government has yet to give a date when the measures will be adopted but has said it will be sometime next year, depending on the passage of the bill, which is currently going through parliament.