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Gap between costings of childcare expansion flagged by Auditor General

Caroline Gardner - Audit Scotland/John Need

Gap between costings of childcare expansion flagged by Auditor General

Local authorities estimates for the costs of expanding childcare and early learning are far higher than the Scottish Government's, Scotland’s Auditor General has warned.

The doubling of free provision from 600 to 1,140 hours is a flagship SNP policy, but the spending watchdog has warned it may cost far more than the Scottish Government has planned for.

Speaking to MSPs on the Education and Skills Committee, Auditor General Caroline Gardner said council estimates on costs and staff are substantially higher than those from government.

“We suspect Scottish government figures are on the low side,” she said, saying councils had based their figures on scaling up current services, unlike the Scottish Government which had estimated a cost per child.

Councils will struggle to get enough staff in place, she said.

Audit Scotland published a report in February highlighting the issue.

Accounts Commission chairman Graham Sharp said: "The scale of change needed over the next two years is considerable and there are significant risks that councils will be unable to deliver that change in the time available.

"There is now an urgent need for plans addressing increases in the childcare workforce and changes to premises to be finalised and put in place."

The Scottish Government’s indicative funding allocation to provide 1,140 hours is £400m, while councils estimate they will need £690m capital funding to deliver them.   

Campaigners have said current arrangements for the free 600 hours, which mostly use council-run nurseries to provide five half days, are inflexible and do not help parents back into work.

Children’s minister Maree Todd said the “hugely ambitious” plans would aim to provide full days and more flexibility, and that it would require further use of private providers and childminders using a “funding following the child” model.

“We’re developing a provider neutral model,” she said.

There is also a “massive” national recruitment campaign to attract more staff, she added.

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