Johann Lamont yesterday proposed a radical overhaul of childcare that would see a cap placed on the cost of putting youngsters in nursery.
The Scottish Labour leader said costs should be capped at 10 per cent of average family income. There would also be a free childcare place for every mother who wants to go to college – a measure the party estimates to cost £35 million.
Ms Lamont was unable to provide a precise cost for introducing the childcare cap – a move which would lead to a huge increase in the amount of taxpayers’ money devoted to childcare.
She did, however, say that there should be a “conversation” about whether the new tax powers coming to Holyrood should be used to raise the cash.
The idea of a cap is based on the system operating in Finland, where parents pay no more than €258 (£203) a month for the cost of childcare in the public sector.
In Scotland, average income is £26,700 per year – so 10 per cent would amount to £2,670 per year, or £222.50 per month.
Currently, only three hours per day of childcare is free in Scotland and parents can pay as much as £900 per month for childcare in private nurseries. And according to a briefing by the Scottish Parliament’s information centre, the current cost of childcare for a parent with a full-time job is an average of £163 per week, or about £650 per month.
Therefore, Labour’s plan has the potential to leave the public purse picking up several hundred pounds per month.
Labour said it intended to use a mixture of public, private, and third sector childcare to implement its policy.
Last night Scottish Government sources said Labour’s proposal could cost the taxpayer up to £2 billion per year, depending on how many hours of childcare was on offer.
Finland has a higher tax regime than Scotland with the Finish people paying 43 per cent of their earnings to the state compared with 36.7 per cent here.
Ms Lamont said: “We cannot make all childcare free. But we can make it affordable. Earlier this year my education spokesperson Kezia Dugdale visited Finland, where the total costs any family spends on childcare is no more than 10 per cent of the median income of the people in the country. She saw first-hand the opportunities it gave to their children.
“I want the same for families in Scotland. So, let us set the goal of capping childcare costs at no more than 10 per cent of the median income of Scotland.
“I want to help those families struggling with the costs of childcare and the mothers at home, because childcare prices them out of the market.”
Ms Lamont said her plans could be delivered using the existing powers of the parliament. However when asked if new income tax powers coming to Holyrood through the Scotland Act and those promised in the pre-referendum “vow” could be used to pay for the policy, Ms Lamont answered: “I certainly think that’s a conversation people want to have.”
The proposal was announced during a keynote speech in Edinburgh during which Ms Lamont responded to speculation that she would be standing down as Labour leader. She said she was determined to lead the party at the 2016 Scottish election.
She also proposed to establish an expert group to look at the challenges facing the NHS and prevent politicians from using the NHS for party interests.
Ms Lamont’s childcare plans come in the wake of the Government’s pre-referendum promise of transformational change using the powers of independence, including a major boost to free childcare using the tax receipts of new working mothers.
Last night SNP MSP Clare Adamson said: “Nobody is more determined to continue to improve childcare in Scotland than the SNP, but we need to secure the right package of powers to fund and deliver real change – not fantasy figures plucked out of thin air by Labour.”