The Scottish Government recognises that childminders are an important element of the Scottish childcare sector, offering families a high-quality, unique and flexible experience of childcare. That is why we are supporting an innovative childminder recruitment pilot, which the Scottish Childminding Association and its partners are leading and which aims to recruit and train more than 100 new childminders in remote and rural areas. With the recruitment of those additional childminders, up to 900 childcare places may be created. We have also provided targeted financial support to childminders during the pandemic, including issuing more than 3,000 grants, each worth £950, through the childcare sector omicron impacts fund.
We will continue to work with our partners to increase the number of childminders in Scotland through the implementation of our commitment to childminding action plan, which was published in 2021.
I warmly welcome the fact that the Scottish Government’s policy of providing 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare is saving families an average of £5,000 per child per year.
However, it is also crucial that free early learning and childcare is flexible so that it meets the needs of parents, which is why the loss of 1,671 childminding businesses in Scotland over the past five years is extremely worrying. Will the minister outline what further steps the Scottish Government is taking to increase the ELC workforce, as we will need private and voluntary childcare settings, including childminders, if we are to continue to expand free funded childcare for children and families?
We want families to be able to access the flexible, supportive and high-quality childcare that childminders can provide, including as part of the funded early learning and childcare entitlement.
It was encouraging that the Scottish Childminding Association’s 2020-21 audit showed an annual increase in the number of childminders delivering funded ELC. We are working with the national childminding sector to explore how to encourage more childminders to offer ELC, including by identifying opportunities for reducing burdens on childminders that might prevent them from offering such provision. We are also working to identify the reasons for the decline in the number of childminders, including by ensuring that the sector’s interests are represented on national forums such as the childcare sector working group and the new national provider forum. Such work helps us to identify where practical support can be provided across the sector.
Will the minister go further by explaining how its outreach to the childminding sector and private providers within the ELC arrangements is occurring? Will she also confirm that the correct weight will be given to that evidence? The crisis in early years provision is getting worse. As we move into the winter period, and especially as the cost of living crisis hits businesses, we could see a massive drop in the number of places happening very quickly.
I apologise to the member if I have misunderstood his question. We support ELC providers and childminding businesses across the piece through our national forums. We ensure that their representative bodies are included on the forums, which look at the training and development needed to ensure that there is a highly skilled workforce across the sector that we can recruit and retain. If I have misunderstood the member’s question, I will be more than happy to write to him.
Funded ELC entitlement can be used at childminders, nurseries or playgroups, but parental choice is limited by the availability of such services in their area. The value of childminding for children’s development should not be ignored. It has low adult to child ratios and enables children of different ages to learn and play together. What further support can the Scottish Government offer to ensure that there is adequate childminding provision across the country, including in Shetland, where there are now only three childminders?
I am very aware of the support that we are providing to remote and rural communities with regard to access to childcare. We will continue to work with partners and local authorities to understand the needs of our remote, rural and island communities. Those needs will be taken into account as we develop our strategic framework for Scotland’s childcare profession, in which we will explore with partners a range of issues under themes such as recruitment and retention of ELC professionals across Scotland.
The member might also be—