CHILDREN’S Minister Aileen Campbell will face calls to “come clean” over why a legal duty to provide 600 hours a year of childcare for some two-year-olds is to come into force later than planned.
The requirement in law for councils to provide the hours for children whose parents are not working will not come in until 31 October, instead of 1 August, it emerged last week.
The Scottish Government insists most children who are entitled to the extra hours will start to receive them in August.
But it is understood the local government body Cosla needed more flexibility to be sure councils could provide the hours for two-year-olds from workless families.
Families with three- and four-year-olds, as well as two-years-olds who are in care or in kinship care, should all start to benefit from the increased hours from August.
It comes after the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that will extend the amount of free childcare youngsters are entitled to from 475 hours a year to a minimum of 600.
The Scottish Government has said a Yes vote in September’s referendum could transform childcare, with a flagship pledge to provide 1,140 annual care hours for one to four-year-olds in an independent Scotland.
But opponents of the SNP claimed the delay in bringing in the legal duty to provide childcare to two years whose parents are out of work showed Government was in “disarray” on the key issue.
Ms Campbell is to be questioned by MSPs on Holyrood’s Education and Culture Committee this morning.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Liz Smith, the Conservative spokeswoman for young people, said: “The minister has to come clean on why there has been a delay on this flagship SNP policy, and her appearance before the committee is the ideal time to explain why some parents are going to lose out as result.”
She added: “This commitment, on which so much of the white paper is based, is now a shambles.
“We now need to see the model on which the policy was based and the financial calculations.
“Evidence given on this matter to both the finance and education committees was far from convincing, and the fears many of us had at the time have now been proved correct.
“This policy to help thousands of under-privileged two-year-olds was supposed to swing into action in only a few weeks’ time, and now it’s in disarray.
“Considering this commitment is the focus of so much attention in the SNP’s blueprint for separation, you have to question how achievable any of it is based on the evidence so far.”
Education Secretary Mike Russell last week thanked local councils for the “energy and commitment they have shown in getting us to the place where we have plans in place for full delivery for the eligible two-year-olds in every part of Scotland”.
At the same time David O’Neill, president of the local government body Cosla insisted councils had been “working extremely hard” to deliver the additional childcare. He said: “By shifting the start time of the legal duty to October 31 we are responding to what councils are telling us that they don’t want to be penalised despite all the effort that has been put in.”
Ms Campbell said: “We’ve been clear on the need for a phased, sustainable expansion as resources and capacity become available, focusing on the most vulnerable first and working with local authorities to address any challenges and ensure the quality of children’s experiences remain at the heart of our plans; parents and carers will expect no less.
“Councils have confirmed that they are on track to deliver the expansion from this August, though we recognise they have been working through a number of practical challenges, particularly in relation to extending provision to every eligible two-year-old from workless households in August.
“The regulations before the Committee reflect our agreement with local government on this issue and on the way forward for the start of the school year.”