Free child­care pro­ject faces ris­ing costs and de­lays, warns re­port

Watch­dog: Councils in dan­ger of miss­ing tar­gets for places, it adds

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - NEWS - Gareth mcpher­son po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

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.


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