Senior SNP minister hits out at 'intolerable' lack of childcare at Scottish Parliament

Angus Robertson accused Scottish Parliament bosses of failing to put forward ‘realistic or creative solutions’

A senior SNP minister has strongly criticised the Scottish Parliament for failing to support politicians with young children, branding the current situation "absolutely intolerable".

Angus Robertson, a father of two, accused Holyrood bosses of failing to put forward "realistic or creative solutions". "It's 2023, not 1923," he told The Scotsman.

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A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament said an “enhanced outdoor play space” was being created at the existing on-site creche that could allow for an easing of the four hours per week per child time restriction.

Angus Robertson. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireAngus Robertson. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Angus Robertson. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The Care Inspectorate visited the Parliament in 2021 and confirmed it would not be granted a license to run an on-site nursery due to the lack of ready access to safe outdoor space. However, it is due to visit again early next month to consider an application for a “registration variation”, which aims to ease the four-hour restriction at the creche.

Mr Robertson, who is the Cabinet secretary for constitution, external affairs and culture, said: "Westminster has full nursery availability for parliamentarians and staff, and by contrast in the Scottish Parliament we are being offered four hours of creche availability. It's just not serious.

"The Scottish Parliament was set up and billed as a family-friendly Parliament, which is an aspiration that anybody in any democracy should aspire to, because any parents involved in politics or working in a Parliament should be able to do their job, and be able to be good parents, and it is not possible in the Scottish Parliament."

He added: "I'm somebody who represents Edinburgh. Imagine you're somebody who lives at the other end of the country. How on earth are you supposed to come to Edinburgh with your child because you don't have childcare support, or your partner's ill, or they're away and you have responsibility, and you have no solution to do your job?

"It's absolutely intolerable. Am I angry about it? Yes, I am, because the Scottish Parliament was supposed to be about doing things differently and doing things better, and the hours are – the hours are there to make it possible for people to have a family life and be better parents by being around, and that's good.

"But if it's not possible to have a workable support mechanism with creche or nursery facilities, then, as in past decades, everything is on the other parent to cover the fort."

Speaking at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, Mr Robertson said the issue had “been raised again and again and again and again, and there are no realistic or creative solutions being put forward". He said if the Holyrood building itself could not accommodate better childcare facilities, arrangements could be reached with nearby nurseries. "It's the at-short-notice aspect which is most tricky,” he said.

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Mr Robertson said he was on public record “as saying that it was not possible for me to consider running for the leadership of the SNP because to my mind, it's not possible to balance those two things in general”.

He added: "But when things are as poor as they are for parliamentarians and people who work in the Scottish Parliament, it's an invidious situation for people to be in, whether they are new mums or dads who are wanting to take their responsibilities seriously. I cannot depend on Scottish Parliament childcare to be a solution to any of my family's childcare requirements, and that's not good enough.”

He said the problem was not unique to politicians. "The challenge of childcare for all parents is a real one, and we're making progress, but there's still more to do,” Mr Robertson said. "But if we want Parliament to be representative and to be open to people at all ages and stages of life, we have to make it possible for people who have young families to be able to do their job, and that their children don't suffer as a result. And either we take that seriously, or we don't, and we're not taking it seriously enough yet."

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “As part of our work to improve the on-site creche service, an enhanced outdoor play space is being created in the MSP garden. The area will be provided with equipment, furniture and toys to give children access to the benefits of outdoor play.

"This is in line with Care Inspectorate guidance and we hope the new space will allow for an easing of the time restrictions that are present in our current registration. We are actively engaging with members who currently use the creche service, to see how it can be evolved to better meet their needs.”

The Holyrood creche previously had a restriction of four hours per day, but a stricter limit of four hours per week was imposed when it reopened earlier this year following the pandemic. However, an easing of this restriction would still fall far short of full-time nursery provision.

Speaking to The Scotsman earlier this year, Meghan Gallacher, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said “talented MSPs” had left Holyrood because of the lack of work-life balance. She said: "And I think unfortunately history will continue to repeat itself unless the Parliament makes a bold decision to try and make the Parliament more family-friendly.

"Now, I think that's open to debate. I don't think there's necessarily a clear answer. However, when you look at the provisions we have here compared to the provisions they've got down in Westminster – Westminster actually has a nursery for members to utilise.”



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