Tories fear parents will be ‘bitterly disappointed’ by SNP childcare pledge

Flagship plans to almost double the amount of free childcare that families can benefit from look set to be “botched”, the Scottish Conservatives have warned.

While the Scottish Government has pledged to increase free early years care to 1,140 hours for eligible youngsters by 2020, the Tories said that so far more than four fifths of public sector nurseries were unable to provide this.

As a result, the party fears parents will be left “bitterly disappointed” when the commitment comes into force.

With data released under Freedom of Information showing 83% of public sector nurseries are currently unable to meet the target, the Conservatives will challenge ministers on the issue during a debate at Holyrood.

Tory children’s spokeswoman Alison Harris said: “There’s less than 18 months to go until parents expect 1,140 hours of childcare, and yet only one in five public nurseries have met it.

“This will only confirm concerns from within the nursery sector that the SNP’s flagship plan to increase childcare will be botched.

“Hardly anything has improved since nurseries raised serious concerns regarding the expansion of childcare last year.

“There is still huge uncertainty over staff recruitment, funding rates and access to capital funding for private nurseries.

“Private nurseries feel they’re being left behind and excluded because of the way the SNP have rolled out this expansion.”

She added: “We are hearing more and more examples of businesses either pulling out of impossible partnerships, or closing down all together, and August 2020 gets closer by the day.

“The SNP launched this policy to huge fanfare. They must get it right or parents will be bitterly disappointed.”

However Children’s Minister Maree Todd said the claims from the Tories were “misleading in a number of ways”.

She said: “Our target is to nearly double childcare to 1,140 hours from August 2020 – not now. The current entitlement is 600 hours and no provider has a legal obligation to offer 1,140 hours.

“Councils are expanding the offer between now and August 2020, allowing councils and providers to test the practicalities and gather feedback from parents.

“Our policy agreed with local government is that the expansion is ‘provider neutral’, meaning local authorities should use all kinds of ELC provision to increase flexibility and choice for parents.”