Childcare system ‘not working’ for Scots parents

Nicola Sturegon has praised the SNP's childcare proposals. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturegon has praised the SNP's childcare proposals. Picture: John Devlin
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Scotland’s childcare system is “not set up for working parents”, according to campaigners who have revealed just one in ten council-run facilities stay open to cover regular office hours.

And in 19 of Scotland’s 32 council areas, there are no public nurseries at all open between 8am and 6pm – the cover working parents say they need. Just 3 per cent of Scots children in council nurseries have places starting at 8am or earlier, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information by the Fair Funding For Our Kids group. Only 2 per cent are in places ending at 5:15pm or later.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has placed ambitious plans to double the level in childcare in Scotland by the end of the decade at the heart of her programme of government. This would effectively provide a full-time equivalent system of 30 hours a week.

But a damning report by the public watchdog Audit Scotland last week said there were “significant risks” this would not be met because of the scale of challenges in finding a new ­workforce and facilities. Today’s findings indicate the system is not close to meeting the needs of parents.

Carolyn Lochhead, a parent volunteer at Fair Funding For Our Kids, said: “Our research shows that the system is just not set up for working parents – the very people the Scottish Government say they want to help.

“If you don’t have grandparents nearby who can help with drop-off and pick-up, then it’s almost impossible to make use of a council nursery place.”

Of 1,369 such centres across Scotland, only 139 are open from 8am to 6pm or longer, the FOI request showed.

All 17 of the council-run nurseries in East Renfrewshire were open between 8am and 6pm, with 67 per cent in East Dunbartonshire also operating across those hours.

In Glasgow City Council, Scotland’s largest local authority, almost two fifths (39 per cent) of council nurseries are open between 8am and 6pm.

Ms Sturgeon has hailed the SNP’s childcare proposals as “transformative” and said they could help get a generation of mothers back into the workplace. The government is planning to increase paid-for nursery places from 600 hours to 1,140 for three- and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, through a credit-style system that would see the cash follow the child.

Fair Funding For Our Kids was set up in 2014 to ensure all parents could benefit from the childcare their youngsters are legally entitled to.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Ensuring children get a high quality learning experience is at the heart of our plans to expand provision to 1,140 hours, but we also know that flexibility is really important for many families … we know that some places offered to parents are not where and when they need them.

“That is why we are committed to introducing an approach where funding will follow the child to give parents genuine choice of provision across sectors.”

A spokeswoman for local government body Cosla said: “The quality of provision is our main priority and we will continue to extend flexibility of provision with a clear line that quality of learning must not be sacrificed at the door of extended hours.”

But Tory education secretary Liz Smith accused the SNP of “warm words” on child care in recent years. She added; “In reality, nothing seems to be changing on the ground.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “The SNP obsession with the total number of hours available, rather than whether those hours are accessible to families, simply is not working.

“Increasing the availability and flexibility of childcare would make a huge difference, not just in terms of tackling poverty and the cost of living crisis, but also in terms of fuelling economic growth.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott said working parents need childcare to “suit their lives”.