Private nurseries being ‘swept aside’, say Tories

Private nurseries are being “swept aside” in the expansion of free childcare, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

The party used its debating time at Holyrood to highlight concerns around hourly rates, staffing and access to capital funding.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd said the Scottish Government and councils were “absolutely determined” to support childcare providers as the expansion is rolled out across the country.

The government has promised to increase free nursery provision from the current 600 hours to 1,140 for three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds by 2020, equivalent to about 30 hours a week in term time.

Ministers struck a £2 billion funding deal with councils to deliver the pledge, including a further £476 million in capital funding between 2017/18 and 2020/21 for building work.

However some private childcare providers remain concerned about the impact of the expansion on their businesses.

Tory Alison Harris said low hourly rates paid to private nurseries by local authorities were preventing some from paying staff the Living Wage.

“The impact of this is that local authorities are able to attract staff currently working in private nurseries to work for more money and fewer hours,” she said.

“This has a devastating impact on private providers causing a mass exodus of their childcare staff.

“The staffing problem is a huge thorn in the side of the feasibility of this policy in delivering good quality childcare for children across Scotland.”

She said capital funding from the government was not being shared with private providers in many areas.

Some authorities are “almost exclusively awarding to their own council-run nurseries without even considering private partnerships”, Ms Harris added.

“Since the big headline announcement four years ago, the Scottish Government’s implementation has been poorly planned, staggeringly unclear and damaging to parents, children and nurseries throughout Scotland.”

Scottish Labour’s Mary Fee said: “Private nursery providers fill a massive gap that council run providers cannot meet and that’s why it’s crucial there are better working relations between Government and private providers.

“Private nurseries are telling us that staffing remains a significant problem for them, particularly around the competition of wages between private and public.”

Tavish Scott, of the Liberal Democrats, said he recognised the Government’s ambition to expand childcare is something parents “absolutely want”.

But he continued: “Their approach… does need to adapt and recognise the scale of challenges that exist in all parts of Scotland.”

Children’s Minister Maree Todd: “I will agree that there are pockets of really troublesome, difficult, challenging partnership relationship, but I would say that across the country there is actually a very positive position to report.

“We know there is good practice out there.

“Let me assure the providers who are currently experiencing strained relationships with their local authorities that meaningful partnership can exist, it does exist.

“This government is absolutely determined that we will support providers in the transition to 2020.”

She said issues would be addressed in support package to be launched by the government before Christmas.