700 nurseries not yet ready for Scottish childcare boom

Flagship plans to transform childcare in Scotland with a “full-time” system mirroring the school week are in disarray over shortfalls in staff recruitment and capacity.

Nicola Sturgeon says the policy being implemented by Maree Todd will be transformational. Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA/Getty

With just a year to go, more than 700 of the new facilities needed for the mass expansion in places have not even began construction, a Scottish Government report has revealed.

Liberal Democrats, who uncovered the figures, say that Scots families could be “left in the lurch” and have dismissed claims by childcare minister Maree Todd that the plans are “on track.”

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But ministers say they are confident that it will be delivered on schedule in August next year.

The policy has been hailed as “transformational” by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with the ambitions that it could see a generation of mothers return to the workplace.

The current state childcare provision will increase from 600 hours to 1,140 hours for three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds. This mirrors the current primary school week, although the plan is for greater flexibility to meet the needs of working parents.

An additional 9,250 nursery staff are needed to deliver the scheme, but an updated report for ministers in June found that just 2,173 have been recruited – 16.1 per cent down on the 2,589 forecast by this stage.

“There have been local challenges in recruiting to some roles,” says the Early Learning and Childcare Expansion Delivery Progress report.

An extra 750 new or expanded nurseries had also been planned. This has since risen to 901, but just 119 have so far been built, while a further 44 are under construction and 738 facilities are still “in development”.

In terms of the capacity within council nurseries to provide 1140 hours for the 105,000 children expected under the scheme, the latest figures show that the forecast capacity in a “typical week” stands at 19,835. This is 20.6 per cent below forecasts about 25,000 by this stage.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “It is easy to see why the Scottish Government would be keen to bury this dire report without so much as a press release.

“While the childcare minister Maree Todd has been brazenly telling everyone that the expansion is on track, these figures show in black and white that simply isn’t the case.

“Even with reports that private nurseries are haemorrhaging staff to local authority nurseries, these figures show that the local authority recruitment target was missed by over 400. This is seriously embarrassing.”

The Scottish Government has already suffered a Holyrood setback on the childcare issue when MSPs voted by 58 to 57 in favour of a motion calling for concerns about the implementation to be addressed. Ministers have already been forced to provide an extra £50 million a year to fund the scheme, taking the annual costs to almost £1 billion a year.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We remain confident that all local authorities and their partners will be ready to deliver when the 1,140 hours entitlement comes into force next August.

“Indeed, thousands of children across Scotland are already receiving this new entitlement a year early and we know that more staff have been recruited since April.”