Tories ‘will end monopoly over pre-school education’

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson raised issue at First Minister's Questions yesterday. Picture: Fraser Bremner
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson raised issue at First Minister's Questions yesterday. Picture: Fraser Bremner
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SCOTTISH Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will unveil ­radical proposals to “totally free up the way pre-school provision is offered” with a new childcare credit system intended to end what her party calls “a state ­monopoly” on the delivery of nursery education.

In a speech to her Scottish conference today, Ms Davidson will set out a plan that would see parents allocated a set number of government-funded nursery care hours.

However, families would be able to choose between state-run pre-schools and nurseries as well as those from the private and voluntary sectors on how to use their allotted time, under the childcare voucher system.

Ms Davidson, speaking in Edinburgh, will claim the shake-up would “bring state and independent nursery provision together” and allow for a less formal kind of care, with registered childminders also among the options.

The Scottish Conservative leader will claim that a childcare credit scheme would replace a “restrictive” state and council-dominated system of childcare, which she says limits parental choice.

Unveiling the flagship policy at her final party conference before the election in May, Ms Davidson will say the plan would allow working parents to “strike a proper balance between work and families” by offering more flexibility.

She will say: “We need to totally free up the way pre-school provision is offered in Scotland. We need to bring state and independent nursery provision together.

“As things stand, parents’ choice is limited to council-run nurseries, or providers that the council has already signed up.

“It’s restrictive and hinders the ability of families to make the best choices for themselves.”

Ms Davidson, setting out the proposed reform, will add: “If parents are entitled to a set number of nursery care hours, they should have the greatest choice possible over where to use them. The plan is simple and straightforward. The government guarantees the number of hours of nursery care you are entitled to without fee, and you choose who delivers it. And when.”

Ms Davidson is also expected to call for a shift of power over the provision of education from local councils to parents and head teachers, with schools handed the power to opt-out of local authority control.

The Glasgow-list MSP will also state her party’s backing for a “new parent power law” that would take schools out of council control – a policy heavily promoted by the Conservative governments of John Major in the 1990s.

Ms Davidson, who also raised the issue at Holyrood’s First Minister’s Questions yesterday, will say: “Parties of Left and Right across the world have come to recognise the benefit of handing more power straight to head teachers.”

However, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson MP, said: “The Tory government has been a disaster for people the length and breadth of Scotland, and they are set to be rejected by Scots yet again in May.”