Put differences aside for childcare plan, says MSP

Holyrood has been called on to form a childcare commission. Picture: Neil Hanna
Holyrood has been called on to form a childcare commission. Picture: Neil Hanna
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MSPs were told yesterday to “put party differences aside” and back a cross-party commission to work out an affordable way for parents to work and raise children.

The call from Labour MSP Hugh Henry comes after Alex Salmond pledged a “transformational shift” towards a Scandinavian-style system of family childcare in Scotland.

Speaking during a Holyrood debate yesterday, Mr Henry said Scotland faced a “childcare crisis”, with many parents unable to take up work due to a lack of affordable care for children.

The Labour MSP said that some families were forced to cut back on food and household bills to cover the costs of looking after their children.

Labour leader Johann Lamont and the First Minister have already agreed to hold talks on how childcare provision could be expanded in Scotland.

However, Mr Henry said that a cross-party group was needed to look at “how much this would cost and where the money would come from”.

Mr Henry’s call for a cross-party deal on childcare comes after Edinburgh council leader Andrew Burns called on Labour and the SNP to co-operate and fight together on key welfare issues such as opposition to the bedroom tax.

Mr Henry said: “We need to set aside our political differences to come up with a sustainable proposal that will make a real difference to Scottish families.

“Politicians need to engage with experts in early childhood education, and with those who have expertise in the delivery of childcare and the knowledge and understanding of working with children.

“We should not be too big to admit that individually we don’t have all the answers, or that thers might know better.

“And we do need to engage with those who know what they are talking about. Above all, we need to work out how much this would cost.”

At the last SNP conference, the First Minister pledged that independence could deliver improved childcare with a new Scottish state meeting up to 85 per cent of parents’ costs.

However, Mr Henry claimed that a new spirit of co-operation between MSPs on the issue could deliver higher levels of childcare ahead of next year’s referendum and the 2016 Holyrood election.

He said: “Johann Lamont offered to work with the First Minister, but it should not be restricted to the SNP and Scottish Labour. There are practical things we can do now. We don’t need to wait until 2014 or 2016.

“But if we are to make a long- term difference, we need to start working together now and not delay while families struggle.”

Mr Henry’s demands for a childcare commission were backed by the Lib Dems and Tories, although the SNP government opposed the move.

Children’s minister Aileen Campbell said: “I’m happy to work with any party that’s interested in childcare. We shouldn’t have to wait for a future commission to work together.”

Meanwhile, Ms Campbell announced an extra £155,000 of funding for the Care and Learning Alliance and the National Day Nurseries Association, from a £10 million fund to improve childcare.