Can the Scottish Government deliver on its childcare pledge?
A couple of weeks ago, local government spending watchdog the Accounts Commission published a damning report about the Scottish Government’s plans to double childcare hours for families.
The commission said there was a "significant risk" councils would not be able to make the move to 1,140 hours of free childcare by 2020.
It stated that, in particular, it will be difficult to increase the infrastructure and workforce to the levels required, in the limited time available.
The expansion is a key Scottish Government policy and Children’s Minister Maree Todd was quick to reassure people that the plans remain on track.
“It’s not unusual, at this point in the life of a major project, for people to have different ideas as to the final cost,” she stressed, before adding that the government is working actively with councils to help them deliver the plans. She also said investments are being made to expand the workforce to deliver the extra hours.
The Scottish Government has said the move will ensure high-quality learning and care is available for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds and is expected to save parents around £350 per child, per month.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added that the increase in hours will allow parents, who struggle to find childcare at the moment, to work, while also transforming the lives of Scotland’s children.
It is a well-established fact among politicians and policymakers that early years are vitally important.
The Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach puts the rights and wellbeing of children and young people at the heart of the services which support them, and ensures that everyone works together to improve outcomes.
The increased childcare pledge was widely welcomed when it was announced and the idea of freeing up a large number of people to return to the workplace, if they wish to, has generally been discussed in positive terms.
Women are most affected by these changes since generally, they still give up work to stay at home with small children, however, with just two years to get everything in place to deliver these extra hours, the Accounts Commission report raises some very real fears.
Adding to this, campaign group Fair Funding for Our Kids recently claimed council nurseries currently do not open long enough to support full-time working parents.
The group said only one in ten council-run centres provides the length of care to cover a full working day.
According to Freedom of Information figures, of 1,369 such centres, only 139 are open from 08:00 to 18:00 and the group said working parents had to rely on relatives or friends to pick and drop off their children or forfeit council nursery places.
Whether these problems can be ironed out prior to the 2020 deadline remains to be seen.
The plans, if they work properly, could help those who wish to have a job get back into work.
However, as with any major policy change, the plans must be fit for purpose and every partner involved, particularly ever-squeezed councils, must be given every help to deliver.