Nursery-age Childcare Funding

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 February 2024.

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Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

5. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on nursery-age childcare funding provision. (S6O-03138)

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

In 2024-25, the Scottish Government will continue to invest around £1 billion to fund local authorities to provide 1,140 hours a year of high-quality funded early learning and childcare to all eligible children.

We are also investing an additional £16 million in-year to deliver our commitment to enable childcare workers delivering funded ELC in private and third sector services to be paid at least £12 per hour from 24 April. Alongside that, we will expand our childminder recruitment and retention pilots and progress work with the six early adopter communities in Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Fife, Glasgow, Inverclyde and Shetland to develop local systems of funded childcare for those families who need it most.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

During the Scottish National Party leadership race, the First Minister promised to tackle the issue of lower 1,140 hours funding for private, voluntary and independent nurseries compared with funding for council-run nurseries. Experienced staff are leaving to work for better pay elsewhere, threatening the flexible provision that private, voluntary and independent nurseries offer. Budgets are being set and fee rates decided right now. What has the Scottish Government done to close the gap in funding?

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

I start by saying how much I value the work and efforts of our PVI sector in delivering funded childcare.

The average rate paid by local authorities to providers for delivering ELC has increased by 64.1 per cent since 2017. However, there is still variation across Scotland, and I have been clear that, where improvements can be made to the rate-setting process, I want such improvements to be made. I am committed to working with the sector on that, and will continue to look for opportunities to do so and to strengthen the current system.

In December, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities published our joint review of the process for setting sustainable rates, which recommends actions to drive improvement. I am wholly positive that we will see exactly such improvement out of that process.

On top of that, we are working with the sector to provide further support for that £12 per hour commitment, and I will continue to work with stakeholders to consider whether wider actions could be taken to further strengthen and improve the rate-setting process.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

The minister will be aware of a proposal in Edinburgh to phase out funded childcare in private and independent nurseries for parents who live outside the city. That will have a massively detrimental impact on my constituents in Fife who commute to Edinburgh for work. Furthermore, removing such a choice goes against the Government’s commitment to getting it right for every child.

What discussions, if any, did the Scottish Government have with the City of Edinburgh Council about that proposal? Does the minister still believe that parental choice is key to delivering nursery-age childcare for every child, and that such childcare should be fully funded?

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

It would not be appropriate for me to intervene directly in the internal decision-making processes of an individual local authority in relation to the delivery of ELC. However, I expect any changes to service delivery in any local authority to be made in line with statutory duties and to take account of the Scottish Government and local government’s shared aims of ELC expansion.

Those shared aims are reflected in the statutory guidance, and our latest funding follows the child operating guidance, which was delivered jointly with COSLA. I encourage neighbouring councils to work together to ensure that publicly funded services meet the needs of families and prioritise children’s wellbeing, including those who need cross-boundary placements. I will continue to monitor the situation.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

P arents in the South Scotland region have reached out to me because they are struggling with the lack of flexibility in pick-up and drop-off times at nursery. What specific Scottish Government support has been given to local authorities to facilitate genuinely flexible early years provision?

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

We understand that the needs of parents, families and children in different areas across the country are very distinct. In our six early adopter areas, we are diving into what families need. We are working with families, children and providers to understand what is required in those local areas and to help us to build our future system of childcare. Flexibility is a key part of that.