Doubling free childcare provision is deliverable, insists minister

It is not fair to accuse local authorities of failing to deliver on a pledge to double free childcare provision ahead of schedule, a Government minister has said.

The Scottish Government has promised to increase free early years care from 600 to 1,140 hours for eligible youngsters by 2020.

The Scottish Conservatives have claimed that so far, more than four-fifths of public sector nurseries have been unable to provide this.

Data released under freedom of information laws shows 83% of public sector nurseries are currently unable to meet the target.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd said she is confident that with multi-year funding agreed with local authorities, the policy will be “sustainable and deliverable”.

Ms Todd said: “We can achieve this policy by 2020. The transition period is hugely important in allowing time for local authorities and partners to work together to refine plans for 1,140 hours.

“It’s unfair to accuse local authorities of failing to achieve the ambition of 1,140 hours already – with 18 months until the full national roll-out.

“We have ambitious aspirations to help ensure that our children can realise their full potential.

“Neither Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities), nor the Scottish Government underestimates the scale of the challenge involved in achieving our ambition.

“But we are committed to working in meaningful and genuine partnership to achieve that ambition for 2020.”

Scottish Conservative children’s spokeswoman Alison Harris said the success of the policy would be dependent on sufficient funding being provided.

She said: “The minister said everything is on target and that the policy will be delivered on time.

“But this is the opposite to what the PVI (private, voluntary and independent) sector are telling us.

“In many ways, the implementation of this policy is frustrating.

“We keep hearing from the SNP that everything is on track, that everything is working and that everyone is happy – it’s just not the case.”

Scottish Labour MSP Mary Fee said her party supports the Scottish Government’s proposals, but she added it is vital current problems with providers are addressed.

Ms Fee said: “This debate is not about opposing the ambitions of delivering the 1,140 funded hours.

“It’s about expressing the confidence that we have in the Scottish Government to meet the 2020 deadline that delivers for children and families, with the backing of all early-years providers.

“And our confidence in the delivery is not because we have a dislike for any one party or any one organisation. It is based on the feedback that we receive from providers, from parents and from bodies like the National Day Nurseries Association and from Audit Scotland.

“Scottish Labour believes that childcare should be flexible, affordable and of high quality for all ages, all year round.”

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