Flagship plans to transform childcare in Scotland with a “full-time” system which mirrors the primary school week are “failing” and won’t be delivered in 2020 as planned at the current rate, MSPs have been warned.
The lack of planning and conflict between council and private nurseries across the country threaten to undermine the groundbreaking scheme, opposition parties claimed.
Childcare minister Maree Todd insisted the policy is on target – but admitted there are “pockets of really troublesome, difficult, challenging partnerships” in parts of Scotland.
The proposals were hailed as the “most ambitious expansion of early learning and childcare” in the UK, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating that it could help a generation of mothers return to the workplace.
Ministers also see it as a key way to tackle poverty and close the attainment gap between richer and poorer areas.
It comes as new research published by fair Funding for Our Kids campaign yesterday hit out at a lack of flexibility under the current system which leaves many working parents struggling to access the 600 hours they are currently entitled to.
Private nurseries are deemed to be at the heart of the policy, accounting for up to a quarter of likely provision, but say they are “underfunded”. Two-thirds say they won’t take part in the expansion.
Tory childcare spokeswoman Alison Harris hit out at the Scottish Government as MSPs debated the issue at Holyrood.
“It is clear that there has been a distinct lack of planning and if it’s left to continue at its current pace then the 2020 target will not be met,” she said.
“In fact the level of provision will likely decrease. Almost half of the nurseries say they’re unlikely to meet the target of 1140 hours with many pointing to underfunding as a significant barrier to doing so.”
The government has already been forced to increase funding for the scheme by about £150 million, a year to almost £1 billion. The recruitment of the extra staff required is also a concern, along with nursery accommodation.
Mrs Harris said the policy is “failing” because the private sector has been frozen out.
Labour’s Iain Gray said many families still find it “quite difficult to access” the 600 hours entitlement under the current regime over a lack of flexibility.