Every three and four-year-old, and every eligible two-year-old, will be entitled to 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare from August 2020. At the moment, the legal entitlement is 600 hours—no local authority is under a legal obligation to offer 1,140 hours yet.
Local authorities have been asked to phase in the expanded offer and to ensure that those children who stand to gain the most from extra funded hours are the first to benefit. Currently, 22 local authority settings in the north-east—which comprises Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Angus Council, Dundee City Council and Moray Council—are offering 1,140 hours. A further 38 local authority settings in the north-east will be phasing in and delivering the extended provision later in 2019.
We are well over the halfway point in the expansion to 1,140 hours of childcare provision, and I am happy to help the minister with her answer. Freedom of information requests have revealed that only eight out of 222 public childcare centres in the north-east are offering 1,140 hours, which is the target. To reassure parents who are feeling let down and to ensure confidence in the delivery of the target, will the minister commit to resigning if she fails to deliver the 1,140 hours in every public childcare centre in the north-east by 2020?
I reassure the member that I am absolutely confident that, in 18 months’ time, when the local authorities are legally obliged to deliver 1,140 hours of free childcare, they will do so. I assure him that we are on target and that we will deliver what is a transformative programme.
The member restricted his question to local authority settings, but I hope I can reassure him further by saying that, as well as those local authority settings that are already providing 1,140 hours, an estimated 77 partner providers are currently delivering the expanded entitlement of 1,140 hours, and at least an additional 22 partner providers are expected to so from August 2019.
If I were building a bridge, Mr Kerr would not expect to be driving over it 18 months before it was built.
Let us not forget that it is the Tories who are in charge of Aberdeenshire Council. On Friday, I visited Hoodles nursery in Oldmeldrum, which is one of many private partner nurseries that are gearing up for the provision of 1,140 hours. What is the minister doing to ensure that partner providers and childminders are included in the free childcare revolution and that parents get to choose the type of provision that best suits them and their children?
Our provider-neutral, funding follows the child approach will empower parents and carers to choose from a range of high-quality providers, including childminders and private and third-sector settings. The power to choose the type of childcare that best suits their child and family is well and truly in parents’ hands. The provider must meet the national standard and have a place available.
Our multiyear funding agreement will enable local authorities to pay sustainable rates to funded providers by 2020. We are committed to supporting providers in the transition to 2020, and we know that they will be absolutely crucial to our success. Our delivery support plan builds on support that is already available, such as the 100 per cent business rates relief, and it sets out further actions to support providers.
Meaningful partnership working between providers and local authorities is key to ensuring choice for parents and carers. The early learning and childcare partnership forum, which was established with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is helping to share good practice and we will hold a partnership summit this summer as we approach one year to go.
What progress is being made by local authorities to adjust payment frequencies to private, voluntary sector and home-based providers, to encourage local and national sustainability of the 1,140 hours?
A key aspect of our funding follows the child approach, which will be introduced in August 2020, is that local authorities will ensure that funded providers are paid promptly and efficiently for delivering the funded entitlement. That will support the sustainability of funded providers and ensure healthy cash flows. As a minimum, it is expected that local authorities should look to pay a funded provider within 30 days of the start of term; preferably, it will be much sooner. The timing of the payment should be stipulated in the agreement between the local authority and the funded provider or in the general conditions governing the terms of business. There are already examples of local authorities with prompt payment practices, and, as I said, we are encouraging the sharing of good practice through the knowledge hub.