Nicola Sturgeon admits 'imperfections' in 'disjointed' Covid-19 childcare plan

The First Minister said she wanted to see the return of the 1,140 hours of childcare policy “as quickly as possible”.

Willie Rennie and Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions

Nicola Sturgeon admitted plans to resume childcare services after parents could be asked to return to work was “imperfect”.

The First Minister was responding to questions from MSPs at First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, and added she wanted to see the return of the flagship 1,140 hours childcare policy “as quickly as possible”.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie challenged Ms Sturgeon on the topic of childcare, labelling the route map out of lockdown as “disjointed”.

He said it was the “duty” of the government to ensure childcare provision was available if parents were being asked to return to work.

Mr Rennie said: ““If parents are being asked by the government to return to work, the government has a duty to ensure there is enough childcare for them.

“The First Minister knows I’m cautious because I want people to be safe, but this new plan remains disjointed.

“Why are parents being asked to go back to work by the government when childminders and nurseries will stay closed for another three weeks on a full time basis. Why are outdoor children’s summer clubs and activities not allowed to open for another three weeks?

“Parents need the detail because they are returning to work now. When are they going to get that detail?”

In response, the First Minister admitted the plans had “imperfections” and said the government strives for perfection but that she “readily concedes” that the plan is “absolutely perfect”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Willie Rennie is right to raise this issue and I said last week, and it’s something I don’t relish saying because it is not the position anyone in my position wants to be in, but there are imperfections in how we do things right now given the nature of what we are dealing with.

“We are trying to align these plans as much as possible and while the slightly slower pace of lockdown in Scotland is for public health reasons, there is also an objective there of trying to align, as far as possible if not perfectly, the return to work with the build up of childcare again.

“What I have announced today envisages the opening of all early learning and childcare from July 15 and clearly that will be to some extent dependent on individual provider arrangements and initially I would imagine will be restricted but that will build up again.

“Does all of that add up to an absolutely perfect plan? I readily concede that it doesn’t and I’m not sure perfection in any of this given what we are dealing with is possible although we strive for it where we can.

“We will continue to try and make sure that these different pieces are aligned as close as possible.”

The First Minister added the extended household model whereby single parent households could join up with another household has allowed for some informal childcare.

Responding to a question from Jamie Greene, Ms Sturgeon also said she hoped to get the flagship 1,140 hours of childcare policy back on track “as soon as possible”.

The Conservative education spokesman said many nurseries were at risk of going bust due to the lack of local authority funding to the 1,140 hours previously committed to by the government.

He said: “Both parents and nurseries had already planned around 1,140, if it is not delivered, they can’t go to work. Can I ask the First Minister to indicate when this flagship policy will resurface and also give assurances to councils that they will be not just told to deliver 1,140 but resourced to be able to do so.”

Ms Sturgeon said councils had been fully funded to deliver the policy prior to Covid-19, but said much of the money was being spent to help tackle the pandemic.

She added: “We want to get that back on track as quickly as possible. 1,140 hours is something we have committed to, it is something we have fully funded, and it’s something we are determined to and will see delivered in full.”

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