Flagship plans to introduce an effective system of universal free childcare across Scotland are to cost £150 million a year more than originally estimated.
The Scottish Government confirmed yesterday the annual cost of the drive to provide 1,140 hours of nursery care will reach £990m annually by the time the scheme is running in 2020. This is up from the £840m originally planned and comes after warnings from councils and the public spending watchdog of a cash shortfall. An extra £70m in one-off set-up costs are also being provided after a deal struck with councils yesterday, meaning these will now hit £470m.
Opposition leaders warned Scots families would now want assurances the money was sufficient and workforce concerns had been addressed before the scheme was introduced. But children’s minister Maree Todd said: “This is a landmark agreement, which marks the culmination of more than two years of hard work to establish a robust shared understanding of the costs attached to the expansion.
“As we now move into a delivery phase, I look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners in local government. “Making sure that all children get the best possible start in life is a key priority for this Government.”
The childcare plans mean all three and four-year-olds, along with eligible two-year-olds, will be entitled to 1,140 hours of state childcare.
This mirrors the primary school week of about 30 hours during term time, although ministers are keen to ensure flexibility to meet the needs of parents.
The scheme has been hailed as “transformational”, with the prospect of allowing a generation of Scots mothers to return to the workplace.
Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland warned in a report earlier this year there were “significant risks” to delivering the scheme, while councils had previously warned it would cost about £1 billion annually to fund the proposals.
Labour’s Iain Gray said: “It is welcome that the SNP has had to acknowledge their planned funding has fallen short and that SNP ministers have been forced to find additional funds.
“Clearly there remain serious problems in finding the workforce to deliver this promise though.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “Parliament and the public will want assurances that these calculations are robust and that this funding is sufficient to enable families to take up their full entitlement to free childcare by 2020.”