THE Scottish Government should use extra funding from Westminster to extend free childcare even further, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has said.
Rennie wants the SNP administration to extend its free childcare proposals to cover 40 per cent of Scotland’s two-year-olds, starting with the most vulnerable children.
First Minister Alex Salmond announced in January that from August every two-year-old child from a “workless” family will be entitled to 600 hours of free childcare, representing 15 per cent of Scotland’s two-year-olds.
From August next year free childcare provision will be extended to 27 per cent of all two-year-olds, by widening the entitlement to families who receive certain welfare benefits such as income support.
But Rennie said Holyrood ministers must match the 40 per cent pledged by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition for England.
“The Scottish Government now has the money they need to implement the childcare package in full,” Rennie, who has been appointed to the Scottish Government’s Early Years Taskforce, told Lib Dem conference in Aberdeen yesterday. “Thanks to the UK budget and the improving economic conditions the Scottish Government now has the money they need to implement the childcare package in full.
“I want [Finance Secretary]John Swinney to use the extra money he has received to fully match the excellent work south of the Border on early education and childcare.
“He should make a statement next week that he has agreed to this extension.
“He’s just over halfway there already. Now he’s got all the money necessary he can travel the whole way. No fuss, no groaning, just do it. Future generations will thank us.”
Rennie claimed the Lib Dems’ participation in the coalition government at Westminster had resulted in winning the biggest level of support ever for childcare provision.
“Our opponents said none of this would be possible,” he added. “They said our plan would make matters worse. It was tough. We were condemned for almost everything. We were criticised for letting the sun set in the evening and for it rising again in the morning. But we were determined to succeed.
“The task is not over yet, but it is progress that has met the challenge. We are taking significant steps towards our ambition for a fairer society and a stronger economy.
“In simple terms it is eight words. Taxes down. Pensions up. New jobs. More childcare.
“Without us in government this progress would not be possible. There would be no balanced recovery without the Liberal Democrats. Our opponents do not share our ambition on manufacturing, green jobs, science, childcare, for a strong economy and a fair society.”
Rennie, who is a list MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, added: “We have an absolute determination, as Scottish Liberal Democrats, that Scottish people should be enabled to be the best they can be as individuals.”