Scotland’s childcare workforce increased by 7,750 posts between 2016 and 2021 to deliver our transformational investment in 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare. Unlike in other parts of the United Kingdom, the overwhelming majority of funded providers in Scotland pay at least the real living wage.
However, I recognise that, as is the case in many areas of the economy, there are workforce challenges in the childcare sector, and we are committed to working with the sector to address them. That is why we are working with our partners to develop a strategic framework for Scotland’s childcare profession. The framework, which we will publish in the new year, will set out priorities for action across key areas, including recruitment and retention of staff.
The Scottish Childminding Association recently announced that 34 per cent of childminders have quit the profession since the expansion of funded early education and childcare in 2016. It warns that that figure could rise to a staggering 64 per cent by July 2026, with more than 10,500 childminding places being lost as a result.
Two years ago, the Scottish Childminding Association warned that a workforce crisis was coming. Today, that crisis is here, and the association’s calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
How does the minister plan to not only stop the exodus of childminders from the profession but replace the 2,000 childminding businesses that are already closed?
We are committed to building a vibrant, thriving childminding sector and to promoting childminding, along with other roles across the early learning and childcare sector, as a valued and fulfilling career choice. We welcome the SCMA’s annual audit and the updated evidence that it gives us with regard to the involvement of childminders in funded ELC. We want to encourage more people into childminding, and we are working with the Scottish Childminding Association and other partners to address the decline in the childminding workforce—a trend that is mirrored elsewhere in the UK. We also want new childminding services to develop in areas with limited access to this form of ELC, and that is why we are supporting a recruitment pilot, led by the SCMA and partners, that aims to recruit and train 100 new childminders in remote and rural areas.
I will certainly try to be brief.
We are committed to supporting a sustainable, diverse and thriving childcare sector and, alongside maintaining a robust but proportionate means of monitoring the financial sustainability of the sector, we are providing support through providing the funding to allow councils to pay sustainable rates to private and third sector providers and to childminders for the delivery of funded ELC; legislating to continue the nursery rates relief scheme, which provides 100 per cent relief on non-domestic rates to eligible day nurseries beyond 13 June 2023; and progressing the actions that are set out in the financial sustainability health check, including funding pilot programmes of targeted business gateway support, which will be available to all childcare services.
I have been contacted by a number of deeply concerned constituents regarding the lack of early years care that is available in Huntly in Aberdeenshire. The minister might be aware that one of the providers in the town, Kiddie Winkles nursery, has announced its closure in the coming weeks due to the Care Inspectorate’s concerns about the quality of the building. So far, Aberdeenshire Council appears to be unwilling to plug the gap, and families are reporting that they might have to give up work in a cost of living crisis.
Will the minister commit to working with the owners of the nursery and the Care Inspectorate to find a solution that will keep this vital service open?
Of course, Mr Marra will be aware that local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that every child can access a place, no matter where they reside. If Mr Marra wants to write to me with the details of that particular nursery, I will be happy to have my officials look into the difficulties that those parents are experiencing.
I am sure that the minister is uncomfortable with the fact that one of her predecessors agreed that staff in private and voluntary nurseries are paid much less than their counterparts in council nurseries. What steps is she taking to close the gap with fair and equal funding, no matter where staff work?
I am sure that Mr Rennie is aware that our funding agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities allows councils to pay sustainable rates for funded ELC hours to private and third sector providers and childminders. The joint Scottish Government and COSLA guidance, which was published in May this year, is clear that rates should reflect up-to-date information on the costs of delivery, provide scope for reinvestment and enable delivery of the real living wage commitment.
Although the funding to providers in the third, private and childminding sectors is an important element of local authority ELC budgets, that funding must also cover a wide range of other costs. For example, as I said in response to Mr Marra’s question, local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that every child can access a place, no matter where they live, and they must provide services that would not be commercially viable for other providers.
For Mr Rennie’s information, on average, the funding to private and voluntary providers for 1,140 hours of funded ELC equates to between 33 and 45 per cent of their income.
Are we sitting comfortably? To follow on from Willie Rennie’s question, the disparity in the salaries that can be offered to nursery staff in the private sector and those in the public sector is an issue. What can the Scottish Government do to try to prevent staff from drifting away from private sector nurseries to the public sector?
The recruitment and retention of a childcare workforce with the right skills, values and attributes remains a priority. Given the tight labour market, that is a key challenge. We have taken a number of actions to support recruitment and retention in the childcare workforce, including providing funding to local authorities to enable them to set local sustainable rates; working with the Scottish Social Services Council to invite those whose registrations have lapsed in recent years to rejoin the sector; providing resources to support recruitment to all parts of the sector; and working with partners on childminder-specific recruitment programmes.