Scottish ministers accused of 'postcode lottery' over delay to childcare expansion
The Scottish Government has been accused of turning a “positive flagship policy into a postcode lottery” after it announced it will finally roll out its delayed funded childcare expansion next August.
The full expansion of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 hours to 1,140 should have been completed by August this year, but was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, critics say the government was already running behind schedule before the pandemic hit and ministers have been accused of using coronavirus as “an excuse” for the delayed roll-out.
Scottish Conservative spokesperson for children and young people, Alison Harris, said: “Despite what they say, the SNP have made dismal progress on delivering 1,140 hours of funded childcare. They have turned what was meant to be a positive flagship policy into a postcode lottery.
“The SNP were already running months – if not years – behind way before the pandemic hit in delivering the necessary infrastructure.
“Many hard working parents are being turned away from childcare. The private nursery sector has been financially on its knees and ignored for some time.
“This appalling delay is a hammer blow to many families desperate to return to work but who are now unable to do so. The SNP has let down a generation of school age children and now runs the risk of doing the same with nursery age families too.”
The Scottish Government revealed in April that the expansion of funded ELC would have to be paused to give local authorities the flexibility to focus on responding to the pandemic.
The latest data from the Improvement Service, compiled in August, shows that more than 56,000 children are already receiving 1,140 hours, which represents 61 per cent of those receiving funded ELC.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP said: “The pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives but this government cannot use it as an excuse to kick the can down the road on major commitments. There will be no recovery without properly funded and supported childcare.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats secured commitments from the Scottish Government to expand childcare but parents need choice and flexibility, and it still isn't clear that will be available next August. It must not be a take it or leave it offer to families.
“Ministers need to be open about where progress has been made and where more attention is needed. This childcare is a lifeline for both parents and their children. If we want Scotland to be the best place for children to grow up, ministers need to get a move on.”
The new August 2021 date has now been agreed with local authority umbrella group COSLA.
Children’s Minister Maree Todd said: “I’m very pleased that we now have a new date for the full implementation of expanded ELC, and that children will benefit from more high quality funded childcare.
“We took the difficult decision in April to pause the statutory roll-out to allow local authorities to focus on responding to the pandemic and providing critical childcare, which was crucial to supporting key workers.
“The pandemic has had an obvious impact on construction and recruitment plans across the country, however local authorities have worked exceptionally hard and continued to make good progress in very challenging circumstances, and the majority of children receiving funded ELC are already receiving 1,140 hours.
“We were always clear that the suspension of the statutory duty on local authorities to provide 1,140 hours was a pause, not a stop. We will continue to work with partners over the coming months to deliver this transformational policy that will benefit families across the country.”
COSLA’s Children and Young People’s Spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe said: “Local government remains committed to increasing the number of funded early learning and childcare hours, recognising the transformational effect for Scotland’s families, ensuring that children have access to the highest quality learning and care, and providing significant savings to parents and carers.
“Despite the massive challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on infrastructure projects and our recruitment programmes, all councils are delivering more that the current 600 hours entitlement to some or all families.
“We are pleased that we have jointly agreed a new date of August 2021 for the reinstatement of the statutory duty for 1,140 hours. We look forward to working with all our partners, including the Scottish Government, to ensure Scotland’s children and families can benefit from almost doubling funded hours of ELC and to support the recovery from the impact of coronavirus on our communities.”