MSPs will probe the Scottish Government’s commitment to fund 600 hours of childcare amid concerns that it could cost twice as much as originally proposed.
The Scottish Government said its policy would cost £61 million in capital spending to extend the entitlement to childcare to 27 per cent of two-year-olds over the next two years, but councils put the figure at around £114 million, according to the local authority umbrella group Cosla.
Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell will face questions over the policy at Holyrood’s Finance Committee today.
Cosla said it supports the policy but “has significant concerns with regard the capital funding available to successfully deliver this policy”.
It said in a submission to the committee: “The required capital funding figures obtained by Cosla and produced by the Scottish Government differ significantly, and we are concerned that this difference could result in the policy not been fully funded.
“The bottom-up assessment by councils has produced a Scotland-wide figure for all 32 councils related to additional capital costs as a direct result of this policy of approximately £114 million.”
But the Scottish Government said responses from councils showed “there was wide variation in costs per child being applied from £1,000 to £23,000”.
The Government stated: “The overall capital cost for two-year-olds in year 2 (2015/16) is estimated to be £61 million.”
A spokesman said: “We are committed to investing £280 million over two years to expand funded early learning and childcare for three- and four-year-olds - from 12.5 hours to almost 16 hours a week - from August, and to extend this entitlement to the 27 per cent most vulnerable two-year-olds, reaching around 15 per cent in the first year.
“The move to 600 hours of annual funded provision from the 412.5 hours in place in 2007, represents a 45 per cent increase in provision for three- and four-year-olds and is worth up to £707 per child, per year.
“The capital costs will be fully funded and our estimate of £61 million is specifically to support the extension to vulnerable two-year-olds over the next two years.”
But Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “The Scottish Government rushed through this childcare commitment without any thought for how much it would cost to upgrade buildings and create the new facilities needed.
“It has now taken them five months to finally come up with a capital figure, yet there are concerns from Cosla that this cost could be even higher.
“The SNP promised to implement the first part of their childcare policy by August this year.
“It now seems inconceivable they will be able to spend the tens of millions needed in time to ensure the right facilities are in place for those children affected.
“This SNP government is rapidly gaining a reputation for rushing through legislation on the hoof without putting in the necessary research on the costs involved.
“Parents across Scotland now need guarantees that childcare facilities will be up to scratch in time before this policy is launched.”