Nurseries in Scotland have the biggest funding shortfall in the UK and will struggle to offer more free childcare hours to three and four year olds if the problem is not addressed, a report has claimed.
The SNP plans to increase funded hours from 600 to 1,140 per year by 2020, while other parties have also pledged to increase free childcare provision for pre-schoolers.
However, due to chronic underfunding and rising business costs, half the nurseries which responded to the survey by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said they were unlikely or unsure they would be able to offer additional free hours.
In England, free care for three-and four-year-olds is to rise from 15 to 30 hours in each termtime week under UK government plans.
In some areas of Scotland, parents are already struggling to find a private nursery which can offer a funded place for their child, with many organisations taking a very limited number of state-paid for places.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said: “This enormous shortfall is a huge burden on private and third sector nurseries. They have no choice but to try to absorb these costs themselves or pass them onto parents by increasing fees for additional hours or for younger children.
“The majority of nurseries are small businesses and can’t afford these losses. They want to offer parents these free hours, but at the same time they have to be sustainable.”
She added that if free early learning and childcare is expanded, fewer parents will need additional hours, which will leave nurseries struggling to make up the shortfall.
According to the survey, only half of respondent nurseries would be likely to extend their funded hours and 22 per cent were unlikely or very unlikely to increase the amount of funded places they offer.
Katherine Sangster, spokeswoman for Fair Funding for Our Kids, said: “The findings of the NDNA survey supports our own research and reflects the reality faced by parents and nursery providers. Fair Funding For Our Kids are asking all political parties to stop the unhelpful focus on free hours and commit to a ten-year plan to deliver flexible and affordable childcare.”
Liz Smith, young people spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “We have been warning for some time that the SNP are failing to address the challenges of providing better nursery care. This report makes it abundantly clear that there is a significant shortfall in financial support which is why local authorities have been rightly claiming that there is not the staffing or the infrastructure to meet the SNP’s promises.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: ”Early years care is vital to ensuring that children get the best possible start in life.
“This intervention makes clear that the SNP’s rhetoric has not been matched with resources to deliver for families.”