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Scotland needs 650 new nurseries to meet the Government’s 30 hour per week free childcare pledge, campaigners say.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised that every child will get 30 hours per week of free childcare by 2020 but campaign group Fair Funding For Our Kids said her pledge would require the equivalent of 650 new nurseries to be built.
The Scottish Government currently funds 16 hours a week of childcare for three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds. Despite its pledge to increase the number of free childcare hours from 600 to 1,140 a year, critics say its decision to cut £10.5m off its childcare budget makes a mockery of that promise.
The news that the budget for Scottish councils next year to deliver the Government's childcare pledge has fallen by £10.5m has raised alarm amongst some.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale lambasted Ms Sturgeon during First Ministers Questions (FMQs) for the cuts which she said will make Scotland’s children and parents suffer.
Speaking during FMQ's, Ms Dugdale said: "'Judge me on my record' says the First Minister, well here it is: promises not delivered, budgets cut and parents let down.
"Instead of delivering what families really need, isn't it the case that the SNP childcare plan is just one great big con?"
Fair Funding for Our Kids has stated: 'A significant number of families in Scotland are unable to access their legal entitlement to 600 hours free early learning and childcare for three to five year olds.
'There are parts of Glasgow where parents of three-year-olds are told their children will not get a council nursery place until the pre-school year because of nursery closures or high demand."
Parents have complained that a major barrier to using the Government’s existing free childcare entitlement is the availability of places within their local area.
The lack of free places available was highlighted in a Government report published on Christmas Eve last year which sought the views of 4,485 parents of three and four-year-olds on the proposed increase of free childcare hours.
Meanwhile the First Minister has announced childcare trials, following the publication of the Scottish Poverty Adviser’s report.
The First Minister said £1m will be used to carry out a recommendation made in the Shifting the Curve report to test delivery models of childcare. The trials will explore how to meet parents’ and children’s needs ahead of the planned expansion of funded childcare hours to 1,140 per year.
The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA)‘s chief executive Purnima Tanuku, a representative on the Early Learning and Childcare Strategic Forum which met at the Scottish Parliament on 21 January, said the NDNA will consult its members about the trials before giving its response to the Scottish Government.
The chief executive said: “Lack of affordable childcare can lead to further poverty for those with young children and high quality early learning helps bridge the gap between the least advantaged and their peers by the time they reach school age.
“The evidence shows the importance of investing early, so it’s welcome that the trials will include places for two year olds. But the high quality aspect of this provision is critical if it is to be effective, so we need to ensure the right investment and funding structure is in place to enable early learning and childcare providers to deliver this where it is most needed.”