Plans to recruit thousands of extra nursery staff in Scotland to meet a huge expansion of childcare are “robust”, MSPs have been told.
About 9,000 new workers are need to double the current childcare provision from 600 hours to 1,140 hours by 2020, Holyrood’s public audit committee was told. This would effectively mirror the primary school week.
The Scottish Government has already to been forced to agree to provide an extra £150 million a year to implement the £990m scheme, and Scotland’s public spending watchdog recently raised concerns over the prospect of finding the staff needed to deliver the policy. About 3,000 have been taken on.
Jane O’Donnell of local government umbrella body Cosla said 9,000 staff was a “robust” figure. She added: “It can be achieved – in addition to the national work that is being done, there’s a lot of local work being done.”
This will involve people coming through college, as well as existing staff, she said.
Paul Johnson of the Scottish Government said: “Our plans for 1,140 hours are progressing well and we remain on track.
“That is not to say that there are not challenges ahead of us – particularly in ensuring that we recruit and train the required number of new entrants to the workforce. I’m confident that we have robust programme management systems in place which will help us identify and manage the risk that are ahead of us over the next two years.”
The increase in hours is due to be phased in by 2020, but an Audit Scotland report in February warned there were “significant risks that councils will not be able to expand funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours” by that date.
Committee convenor Jenny Marra called for assurances that the plans will be achieved.
She said: “This is a huge investment, but it’s also a huge target, is it affordable? Do local authorities have the money to cover this?”
Ex-health secretary Alex Neil called for a focus on how the policy would help tackle the attainment gap between rich and poor areas in Scotland. He said: “We have an increasing problem throughout the UK, including Scotland, of child poverty which is a major contributing factor to the educational attainment gap – in fact, it’s the major factor.
“Is there any evidence or are you assessing what impact these measures are having on reducing or containing the increase on the levels of child poverty in Scotland?”
Mr Johnson said it was an important issue and the government will take it on board as they develop the policy.
Ministers hope the policy will be “transformative” and help a generation of mothers back into the workplace.