Free childcare project faces rising costs and delays, warns report
Watchdog: Councils in danger of missing targets for places, it adds
A flagship SNP policy to increase free childcare faces rollout delays and escalating costs, Scotland’s public spending watchdog has warned.
Councils are at “significant risk” of missing the 2020 target for the doubling of state-funded nursery hours, while annual running costs are predicted to soar above £1 billion, according to the Accounts Commission.
Nicola Sturgeon pledged to increase paid-for nursery places from 600 hours to 1,140 for three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, by August 2020.
An Accounts Commission report published today said: “There are significant risks that councils will not be able to expand funded early learning and childcare (ELC) to 1,140 hours by 2020.
“In particular, it will be difficult to increase the infrastructure and workforce to the levels required in the limited time available.
“The Scottish Government should have started detailed planning with
“The report reflects the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves. MAREE TODD CHILDCARE MINISTER
councils earlier, given the scale of the changes required.”
The day-to-day cost of the scheme has risen to £1bn a year by 2021-22, up from the Scottish Government estimate of £840 million.
The cost over the next two years of getting the infrastructure in place to deliver extra hours has also increased, from £400m to £690m.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “This independent report blows a £160m black hole in a flagship SNP Government policy.”
Maree Todd, the childcare minister, said the Government “remains on track” to deliver the 1,140 hours by 2020, which she insisted will be fully-funded.
“There is little doubt that this is a very ambitious pledge and the report reflects the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves,” Ms Todd added.
Fife Council raised doubts it will not be able to meet the deadline in full when a spokeswoman said it was working with the government to “ensure that we can meet the target wherever possible”.
Dundee City Council has said it is putting in “huge preparations” for the changes, which includes recruiting an extra 450 staff and replacing the Francis Wright Pre-school Centre in the East End.
An Angus Council spokesman said it is involved in a “significant programme of work” to meet new childcare requirements.