About 2,000 new jobs in childcare are to be created in Scotland as part of a £3.5 million drive to help more women find work, finance secretary John Swinney revealed yesterday.
It comes after plans to extend free childcare to more than 15,000 two-year-olds were announced by the Scottish Government this week.
Childcare has been thrust into the centre of the referendum debate in recent months after the SNP pledged to effectively introduce full-time universal provision after independence and get a generation of mothers back into work.
The extra funding announced yesterday will be invested in skills and training places, as well as creating the new jobs.
Mr Swinney told MSPs: “Investment in childcare can also create jobs in the sector to meet increased demand. We are determined to ensure that the development of a skilled workforce can match the scale of our ambitions for childcare.”
He added: “Our commitment to first-class childcare provision is based on analysis of its contribution to enhancing Scotland’s economy.
“The provision of high-quality childcare will help more parents return to work and has the potential to increase female participation in the labour market.
“Boosting participation and reducing the time a parent is inactive in the labour market due to childcare commitments will bring benefits in terms of skill levels, employability, education attainment, future earning potential and the overall productivity in the Scottish economy.”
The SNP government also unveiled plans to introduce free school meals for primary 1 to 3 pupils, insisting it is committed to the welfare state and universal benefits, after George Osborne set out plans for billions of pounds of fresh cuts following the next election.
Mr Swinney added: “Westminster has created one of the most unbalanced and unequal economies in the developed world, where economic activity is concentrated in one part of the UK, manufacturing is neglected and a further £25 billion of budget cuts are proposed.”
SNP ministers insist only independence will bring about the “transformational” change that will get 100,000 mothers back into work with the introduction of full-time universal childcare.
The recent white paper for an independent country, entitled Scotland’s Future, pledged to gradually phase in greater childcare in the decade after independence.
But nursery care is already within the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and opposition parties called for the SNP government to deliver these changes now.
First Minister Alex Salmond announced this week that free nursery care will be extended to about 27 per cent of two-year-olds – more than 15,000 – by 2015.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said the party has been urging the SNP to be “more ambitious” in delivering free early learning and childcare for two-year-olds from the poorest backgrounds.
“I’m delighted SNP ministers have finally heeded those calls and are also now committing the funding to train the additional nursery teachers that will be needed,” he said.