Nurseries raise concerns over childcare expansion

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Private nurseries have raised a series of concerns about the Scottish Government’s flagship proposal to expand free childcare.

Ministers have promised to increase free nursery provision from the current 600 hours to 1,140 for three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds by 2020, equivalent to about 30 hours a week in term time.

The government struck a £2 billion funding deal with councils to deliver the pledge, including a further £476 million in capital funding between 2017/18 and 2020/21 for building work.

However documents collated by the Scottish Conservatives using Freedom of Information requests, shows some childcare providers remain concerned about the impact of the expansion on their businesses.

A briefing by civil servants show key issues include lower rates paid to partner providers, a lack of engagement, a lack of access to capital funding, and a lack of involvement in the expansion to 1,140 hours.

While some local authorities, including Edinburgh, Highland and Moray, have been praised for their approach to partnership working with private nurseries, other councils have been criticised.

The briefing states issues have been raised most often over the last year in North and South Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling and Glasgow.

Meanwhile a letter from Kirktonholme Childcare – which operates 11 nurseries across the central belt – to Children’s Minister Maree Todd said the firm had been advised it would not receive an increase in hourly rates from local authorities over the next two years.

It also voiced concerns over councils’ plans to build or expand their own nurseries without consultation or collaboration with private providers.

“The partner providers are literally on their knees and I believe this ambitious policy is about to implode,” the letter states.

Earlier this year, the annual survey by the National Day Nurseries Association found many private nurseries do not feel confident that sufficient funding will be passed on to providers by local authorities to enable them to deliver the 1,140 hours.

Tory MSP Alison Harris said: “This childcare expansion was launched to huge fanfare but it is clearer by the day that the SNP has no ability to deliver it.

“The SNP cannot deliver this policy without childcare providers and they are telling us that they cannot survive on the current rates.

“The SNP is driving nurseries to breaking point due to low rates, lack of engagement and lack of access to capital funding.

“The SNP must sort out this mess urgently or childcare providers will be driven out of business and parents relying on this policy will be devastated.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said: “The warning signs have been evident for months. Nurseries have repeatedly told the government of their struggles to help deliver the headline free childcare guarantee.

“This all shows we are still a long way from having the kind of childcare available across Scotland that is so needed.”

Ms Todd said: “We expect local authorities and early learning and childcare providers to work together meaningfully to deliver the funded entitlement.

“While there are already good examples of partnership working across Scotland, we know there is a need for this to be strengthened in some areas.

“This is why we have established an Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) Partnership Forum with COSLA, bringing local authorities and providers together, driving improvement in partnership working.

“The landmark funding agreement for the expansion reached by Scottish Government and COSLA in April to fully fund this policy includes funding for the payment of sustainable rates to providers from 2020. This means that the hourly rates paid to providers across the country will significantly increase.”

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