Scotland politics

Scots minister Campbell says government 'committed' to childcare plan

Child eating lunch Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish government has pledged to increase free childcare hours for pre-schoolers

The Scottish government is "committed" to its plan to extend childcare, Children's Minister Aileen Campbell has told MSPs.

It was announced last week that there would be a delay to bringing in the pledge of 600 hours a year of childcare for some two-year-olds.

Ms Campbell said "legal enforcement" had been delayed but not the "policy intention behind it".

Opposition parties have alleged the policy is in "disarray".

The Scottish government insisted most children would receive the increased hours when the new school year begins in August.

The SNP Holyrood administration promised that councils would be legally-bound to provide childcare for two-year-olds whose parents are not working from August onwards.

However, that will not now come into force until 31 October.

The Scottish government said families with three and four-year-olds, as well as two-years-olds who are in care or in kinship care, should all start to benefit from the increased hours from August.

The delay until October was understood to be because local government body Cosla needed more flexibility to be sure councils could provide the required hours.

'Legal enforcement'

Addressing the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee, Ms Campbell said ministers were "working to ensure there is no impediment for local authorities".

She added that if a local authority had plans in place by August then the extended childcare could be available in that area from then.

Susan Bolt of the Scottish government's early years team told the committee: "I don't see them turning that child away and saying 'come back in October'."

Ms Campbell argued: "The delay is in the legal enforcement, as opposed to any delay in the policy intention behind it."

Pressed by Conservative MSP Liz Smith, Ms Campbell did not give an estimate of the number who would be provided with a place in August.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish government said its flagship policy would apply to most children

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, extending the amount of free childcare youngsters are entitled to from 475 hours a year to a minimum of 600, became law in March.

Ms Smith, the Scottish Conservatives' spokeswoman for young people, said: "The performance from the minister on this crucial subject was a farce.

"We still have no guarantee that all eligible two-year-olds will receive a place from August, no indication which local authorities are struggling to meet the obligation, and no final figure on what the capital costs will be.

"By pushing the legal enforcement back three months, the Scottish government is admitting that all is not well with its flagship childcare policy."

She added: "Anxious parents across Scotland now need some clarity on whether their child will actually get the childcare promised to them on 1 August."

'Working hard'

Education Secretary Mike Russell last week thanked local councils for the "energy and commitment they have shown in getting us to the place where we have plans in place for full delivery for the eligible two-year-olds in every part of Scotland".

At the same time David O'Neill, president of the local government body Cosla insisted councils had been "working extremely hard" to deliver the additional childcare.

And Ms Campbell explained there was a need for a "phased, sustainable expansion" which would concentrate on the "most vulnerable first".

She added: "Councils have confirmed that they are on track to deliver the expansion from this August, though we recognise they have been working through a number of practical challenges, particularly in relation to extending provision to every eligible two-year-old from workless households in August.

"The regulations before the committee reflect our agreement with local government on this issue and on the way forward for the start of the school year."

After questioning Ms Campbell and Ms Bolt, the committee agreed the amended childcare regulations.

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